What’s the Point of #GoodBusiness?

Nick Gardner, Co-Founder and CEO at Project Dirt, explores why businesses can no longer ignore the drivers to embedding social purpose. Project Dirt runs inspiring and impactful community campaigns to help bring corporate purpose to life. Examples include running Outdoor Classroom Day with Unilever and Your Pint Can with Carling. 

Business has been through some rough times in the public eye over the last decade. From the banking crisis to the rise of ‘tax shaming‘, it is easy to argue that ‘business’ as a whole needs a good PR injection. Right. But if it’s just about PR, and not led by real change, this ‘shot in the arm’ won’t last very long.

‘Good Business’ is a sensible phrase. It should be a tautology, a trusim even.

From the beginnings of business, the leaders of some of the most successful companies of their time where driven by ulterior motives. The early Quaker enterprises, driven by business leaders such as John Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree made worker wellbeing a priority, going as far as creating whole villages to house their workers, providing housing, healthcare systems and social clubs. William Lever, founder of Lever Brothers (the forerunner of Unilever), was driven by a desire to create a product which popularised cleanliness and hygiene in Victorian England.

Even today, people tend not to set up businesses purely to make money. Well, some do. But most want to make a difference in some way. And, as often as not, that motivation is driven by a desire to do the right thing.

Looked at from another direction, it’s instructive to look at some of the drivers behind the current success stories in business. Which businesses look set to flourish, and which to flounder?

Consumer-facing brands from Toms to Persil are increasingly seeking competitive advantage in what they stand for. And increasingly so are B2B organisations, such as Pearson and British Land. Purpose drives profit. At Unilever, growth of purpose-led brands outperformed the rest of the business by 50% in 2016. Supermarkets are increasingly competing on relevant #GoodBusiness issues such as food waste.

Then there is the drive from within. Look the the heart of any business, and it’s really a collection of people trying to make their way in the world. The word ‘corporation’ in fact comes from the Latin corpus, literally a ‘body of people’. To hang together successfully, these people need a set of common goals or driving principles. Employee engagement is a key focus for successful businesses, driving the bottom-line. The workforce of today – including, but not limited to, the oft-quoted ‘millennial generation’ – is increasingly driven by finding an external motivator.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year, three senior leaders from Facebook wrote that – looking beyond the shiny facade of a snazzy office, free gym passes and table football in every breakout area – most employees are really after three things from their employer: Career, Community and Cause. When an employer provides across all three of these motivational ‘buckets’, they find that their employees bring their whole selves to work.

In a world where business has traditionally been driven by returning profit to investors, Larry Fink, Chief Executive at BlackRock, understands the wider impact of this shift. In his annual letter to CEOs, the boss of the world’s largest fund manager told companies that they will be focusing on the long-term value of a company which, crucially, is tied to how it can demonstrate it is serving a social purpose: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society”.

So, where to start? Every company with a physical footprint is an active part of its local community, from sourcing employees to using local services: review what your company can give back to the local community. The next step for some companies will be to find a suitable cause or issue to get behind. This is not a new brand of ‘purpose wash’ to be stuck in the marketing department; such ethics should be embedded into a company’s DNA from top to bottom. In a recent article for Marketing Week Anna Koklanakis, Senior Global Brand Manager at Knorr stated: “The promise of acting with purpose stretches far beyond the marketing department – it’s an empowering reason for every function in a team to think about how they can make a positive impact”.

Nor can Good Business be led by the CSR department. It has to be more deep-rooted than that, pervading the whole structure of a company, from the very top down. And that is why CSR can no longer considered to be an isolated concept. #GoodBusiness is here to stay. Embrace it.

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