Purpose has become a buzzword, with many organizations only paying lip service to the idea without putting any real effort into fulfilling it. Purpose is simply an intent, and without action to back it up, it’s not enough to create real change. The problem with solely focusing on purpose is that it misses the point of what really matters: impact.
One reason why purpose has become so diluted is that it is often viewed as just another marketing tool, rather than a legitimate reason for an organization’s existence. The Coca-Cola Company provides a prime example of how purpose can be misguided.
Despite having a purpose statement of “Refresh the world. Make a difference,” the company has been criticized for being the world’s top plastic polluter, despite its partnership with the World Wildlife Fund on water stewardship. The company’s efforts are commendable, but they are not enough to make a real difference at scale.
Moving from Purpose to Impact by Asking ‘Why not’
The question of whether purpose is the right concept for organizations is a valid one. Purpose has many different layers of meaning, and it may not resonate with everyone in an organization. To address this, companies need to find a new concept that can provide unity and direction. The answer to this challenge lies in shifting the focus from purpose to impact.
Instead of starting with a search for their ‘why’, companies should start by asking “why not?” Why not do the right thing now? Why not put people first and profit second? Why not use the company’s position and purchasing power to positively impact social standards, protect the environment, and stand up for a good cause?
Impact Creates Profits
An Axios Harris poll in 2021 revealed the public perception of different brands based on their impact on society. The results showed that Coca-Cola’s reputation took a significant hit, falling from 41st to 58th place. On the other hand, Patagonia saw a significant increase in its popularity, moving from 32nd to the top of the list due to its unwavering commitment to the environment.
Patagonia’s success can be attributed to its strong values, which it has consistently translated into meaningful action. Conversely, Coca-Cola’s reputation has suffered due to its lack of consistency between its words and actions.
Impact is the True Measure of a Leader’s Legacy
In August 2022, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, took the concept of impact to the next level: he transferred ownership of the company to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective, directing all profits towards fighting climate change and preserving the natural environment. This is a major accomplishment and an excellent example of the positive impact a company can make.
Creating a living legacy – as a business leader and for the company they represent – and having a positive impact on the world requires more than just talking about purpose. Companies need to focus on making a difference and implementing actions that align with their values and beliefs. This can be done by setting clear sustainability goals, working with stakeholders to create positive change, and engaging employees in the process to make them feel like they are making a difference.
No one cares about your purpose, but everyone cares about your impact.
Main Image by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona.
This is a shortened version of the original article that first appeared in CEOWORLD Magazine.