Just as kids headed back to school this year, nearly 200 corporate CEOs headed back to the board room for the first time in two decades to redefine a corporation. These leaders decided that besides shareholders, a corporation should benefit customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.
As corporations take action on this pledge, their focus necessarily will move beyond short-term quarterly profits; now longer time horizons and qualitative metrics become necessary ingredients for creating value for these other stakeholders.
Defining a purpose and becoming mission-driven is an important way to get this balance right. Thousands of Certified B Corporations work at the intersection of purpose and profit. Over a million nonprofits do, too. Adopting a mission certainly does not require a change in legal construct, but counter-intuitively it does mean behaving more like a nonprofit. Make your mission matter and leverage it through communication.
One of the top avatars in this space is Patagonia with a mission to support the environment. Well, that’s what the mission used to be. Today, Patagonia more urgently says, “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Their web site continues, “At Patagonia, we appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We aim to use the resources we have—our business, our investments, our voice and our imaginations—to do something about it.”
Spend five minutes on the company’s website, and you don’t have to wonder if they really mean it. They’ve pulled products—even bestsellers—that inadvertently caused harm and gone back to their own drawing boards to reinvent.
But that’s not true for all companies. At the opposite end of the spectrum are companies with no mission or a faux mission—for example, the defense contractor that manufactures missiles to “build a more peaceful world.” Huh?
Worse still, as one mission-driven CEO, Tom Szaky of TerraCycle, pointed out to me, are companies with a bad mission. These include companies that plan obsolescence, causing customers and the Earth to bare the costs of excessive consumption.
So what does this balance look like when done right and what can you learn about communicating?
- Do commit to a social impact mission.
- Do integrate your mission into all departments and enjoy new ways to communicate.
- Do incorporate your mission into your employer brand strategy.
- Do open the curtains and be transparent.
- Do adopt a trustworthy approach.
- Don’t worry about being perfect. Share your failures and what you learn from them.
- Don’t tell us your company stands for something that your product isn’t.
- Don’t focus only on quantitative metrics; qualitative metrics count even more. Tell stories.
- Don’t forget to connect the dots for employees so they can participate and be your best mission ambassadors.
- Don’t keep your mission siloed away in the CSR office. From front line employees to corner-office dwellers, everyone lives, talks, and embodies your mission.
Committing to and leveraging your company’s passion for its mission helps you attract customers, talent, and collaborators while driving safety, retention, and profitability. Get the messages right and you expand your mission, grow your business, and make our world a little better.
About the Author: Gail Bower works with nonprofits to put more money in their missions and with mid-size and larger companies to put more mission in their money. Nonprofits become self-sufficient. Businesses strengthen connections with clients and employees, make a difference in their communities, and increase topline growth. For more information visit GailBower.com.