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What’s the point!? Why purpose is starting to have one…

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​Twenty seven years ago I started an article with a quote by Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in the eponymous movie,Wall Street.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

It captured the zeitgeist of an “upward surge of mankind”.Wall Streetwas 1987. Laissez-faire Reaganomics was in the US. House owning loadsamoney Thatcherite Britain was about to roll through the gears.

Greed, after all, saved the hungry caveman, driving him to hunt. Greed got you the mansion in the Hamptons. Greed shoved the share price. Greed was rewarded by wealth. Wealth, like greed, was available to all. Capitalism rewarded “good” greed.

Since then, I’ve had a career that’s worked with companies very focused on profit (growth) and “growth” (more profit). Marketing is geared towards increasing market share. We’re not “successful” (don’t get me started there), unless there’s more of it. Bigger returns, expansion, quarter to quarter 15% returns. 

Inevitably this has led to a series of boom and bust enterprises. Of course it has, sustainable, non-stop everlasting growth is rarely sustainable and judging success by being bigger than you were this time last year sounds all a bit macho.

When I worked in F1, the team owner-manufacturer experienced red numbers for the first time in its history. Reaction: close a state of the art F1 facility, mass redundancy, and all a week before Christmas. Net result, the following season from the very same factory with (half of) the very same people,Brawn GP; world championship team winners, Jenson Button crowned world champion. 

Only sport can focus that kind of irony.

From the loadsamoney generation cue 2008 market crash. Cue austerity. The arrival and emergence of “CSR” – corporate social responsibility – it’s rise and sort of fall, the arrival of dada! millennials and suddenly we’re all talking purpose.


“A mission iswhatyou’re trying to do, and a purpose is thewhy”.(Patrick Cook-Deegan and Kendall Cotton Bronk)

“ organisation’s meaningful and enduring reason to exist that aligns with long-term financial performance, provides a clear context for daily decision making, and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders” (Judge Business School Cambridge Research Project)

“The reason why something exists. For companies, it is the foundation of every experience. It is the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and necessary.” (Accenture)

Is it me or is this all patently obvious? Well clearly not. Great news from the Accenture Global Report: 62% of consumers want companies to stand up for the issues they are passionate about, 66% of consumers think transparency is one of a brand’s most attractive qualities. All great, though it does leave me thinking what the other 38% and 34% respectively feel…

But let’s not be cynical because we’re on a roll, and, I believe a genuine transition. And I believe even more it’s the “yoof” (backed by David Attenborough) who are going to save us. No, really. Baby boomer generation has really boomed it all away. From plastic bags filling up dolphins to overcrowding, sky high house prices, the poverty gap, belching pollution and fake news. We’ve sadly done it all and now I hope, and do have some, that the next wave and the wave after that will stop the rot. 

While Accenture’s report can boast that 55% of consumers say that consumers’ consideration is driven by ethical values and authenticity that still means that 45% don’t. Work to do still people.

For the millennial generations purpose is not a cause so much as a mantra. When not upsetting each other on snapchat millennials do seem to genuinely care where our generation just indulged.

In a home experiment of two, I cross-checked this with my teen and pre-teen. This is a generation growing into a cluttered world, they know about glaciers melting into the ocean, that fish are filling up with plastic, that mass animal farming has an alternative, that we can live in a carbon neutral world. It’s all there, in their battery powered, environmentally unfriendly cell phones through social media.

And this is significant to the fields of recruitment and property why? Well, millennials will be evolving into a very different office and business living environment. Sustainable housing, build to rent, healthy buildings will all become more and more important and more adopted as selling points. 

Purpose; what and why companies do and stand for will become increasingly significant as they start to make their choices, all wrapped in social media and the chance to send issues and protests  globally viral in seconds.

For recruitment there are two key factors in purpose. One; what companies stand for and do are becoming important factors in why candidates choose to work for them. A recent Korn Ferry survey revealed that 90% of people who worked in a purpose-driven organisation reported feeling engaged in their work vs 32% of those who worked in companies that weren’t.

Over the road at Deloitte, the 2017 Human Capital Trends Report found that most millennials look beyond a company’s financial performance when deciding whether or not to work there. Only one in five survey respondents said they would choose to stay at a solely profit-driven company for more than five years. Finally, a statistic that stands up when inverted!

More good (millennial) news… PwC’s Workforce of the Future survey found that 88% of millennials want to work for a company whose values reflect their own. This is great. I’m with the millennials, and just as well, because by 2025 they will comprise 75% of the workforce.

So millennial candidates like to work for companies with values. This is moving forwards in two ways whether the companies like it or not (and it seems that most are coming around).

Firstly the UK government has now legislated that CEOs and boards will be held financially accountable for staying true to their values. Or in another words, a publicly listed company with shiny marketing boasting of diversity and green schemes to boost its market position will now be rightfully held accountable if its just a bunch of, well, shiny marketing. Secondly, EVP  – employer value proposition, is becoming more and more important.

EVP is the genuine marriage between a company’s values with those of its people and moves beyond (we hope) the marketing spiel of companies being “honest” and “passionate” – versus those that are dishonest and apathetic..?

EVP makes marketing relevant, beyond trying to hogwash consumers. It ties a company to its proper core and purpose and then moves out in concentric circles to touch everyone – shareholders, suppliers, consumers. Perhaps it and the genuine integration of positive purpose will move us all on from messages that tell us to be the best version of ourselves while filling up rivers in India with toxins  –just sayin’ as my post millennial daughter and member of the future generation to save the world might text; on snapchat.

David Butler is Strategy & Communications Director for deverellsmith. The former head of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, he was a former Contributing Editor to GQ South Africa and has written and spoken extensively on cause related projects and business with purpose.