Living and embedding your purpose: five key factors

At RISE, we help companies put purpose and sustainability at the core of strategy, operations and engagement.  

Whilst developing and articulating your corporate purpose—the expression of why your company is in business—is a crucial first step, embedding the purpose across the organisation, ensuring it is brought to life authentically everyday, is what will ensure you really benefit from a purpose-led approach. 

Based upon our work with leading businesses to develop, articulate and embed their purpose, we have identified five key factors to embedding a purpose.  

Firstly, purpose needs to guide business strategy. The business strategy should be an articulation of how you will deliver on your purpose, with your core products or services being the key lever through which you do this. By having a clear articulation of how you will deliver your purpose, you should also have a clear understanding of where elements of the business (e.g. specific products or services) run counter to the purpose, and plans to remedy this (e.g. divestment, product/service adaptation and redesign). Aligning business strategy and purpose will also require the purpose to be a key part of decision-making criteria, for example in investment planning and resource allocation, alongside traditional financial analysis. All of this should help to build and solidify understanding of the business case for your purpose internally and externally, including surfacing relevant data to support it. 

Second, the delivery of the purpose should be articulated with clear goals. These goals will help bridge, and be central to the business and sustainability strategy, and create a tangible view on what achieving the purpose means, and whether the business has been successful at this or not. The business should have a clear roadmap for how it will achieve the goals in the short- and long-term, regularly report on its progress against them, and have clear milestones or interim targets for short-term action as well. The goals will support the business in channeling resources towards and creating accountability for the delivery of the purpose. 

Third, purpose needs to be embedded into development and reward schemes. At the senior level, the achievement of the purpose, should be articulated into key strategic metrics, which form part of board and executive remuneration and incentive plans. Each employee should have a role in supporting the achievement of the purpose, which can be reflected in their goal-setting and development processes. The purpose should also play a key role in wider reward and recognition schemes, for example internal awards. Through these steps, the purpose should permeate into everyday decision-making and behaviours too. 

Fourth, clear management, governance and oversight of the purpose needs to be developed. This ensures there is explicit responsibility for its delivery at an executive level, and clear oversight and accountability at the board level. Policies, processes and systems need to be reviewed to ensure they align with the purpose and push decision-making towards the delivery of it. Governance and management structures and procedures should be reviewed to see if they need to adapt to ensure the purpose is adequately represented within them. To provide an extra layer of challenge and accountability, the development of an external advisory board can also push company progress further. By embedding purpose into these formal structures and ways of working, the company can ensure it is embedded across the organisation for the long-term. 

Finally, the purpose needs to be at the core of your internal and external communications. If purpose is guiding the business, it should also guide communications, using available channels and stakeholder engagement activities to demonstrate how the company is bringing its purpose to life, and how that is supporting business success and meeting stakeholder needs. Senior leadership should be able to authentically speak to the corporate purpose, and their role in delivering it, acting as key ambassadors for the company. All advocacy efforts should be reviewed to ensure that they’re actively supporting and not detracting from the delivery of the purpose.  

Through working on these five success factors, companies can ensure their purpose is far more than a fluffy statement of intent, embedded and understood across the business, evident in everyday decision-making, culture and behaviour and driving performance and success.