Profits matter in business. Without profit and cash, organizations simply can’t survive. But, without purpose, business can seem empty.
Today, more people than ever believe so, and they’re championing a growing movement. For an organization to thrive, business leaders must think beyond numbers alone. They need to focus on people, purpose, and the planet.
One leader spearheading this movement on an international scale is Tom Rippin. Tom has served his career with major nonprofits including Comic Relief, and (RED) which was founded by Bobby Shriver and Bono to combat the AIDS pandemic.
Tom is currently the founder and CEO of On Purpose, an organization designed to help leaders discover how they can positively impact the world, no matter their size or industry. Here, Tom and his team go farther than simply promoting the virtues of purpose-driven initiatives and enterprises—they develop brilliant business strategies about creating work that sparks real, positive change and a more robust economy.
“If we’re going to bring about this better, healthier economy,” Tom says. “It’s going to take change from all of us. It’ll take change coming from all angles and types of organizations.”
Why Purpose-Driven Businesses Matter
First off, what does purpose mean when it comes to business? “Purpose is the reason you’re doing this,” says Tom. It’s how your business and your leadership will contribute to the greater good and to something bigger than themselves.
“If you are adopting purpose because it’s making you more profitable, more fulfilled, or customers more loyal,” Tom says, “then you don’t quite have the right idea.” That’s not to say that profit, fulfillment, or loyalty aren’t integral to a successful business. They can also be your primary drivers. Still, that’s not your purpose.
Purpose starts with deciphering how a business influences people and the environment in ways that are good, and not so good. Even then, leaders too often overlook the negative impact some of their decisions can have—an understandable temptation that could mean missing out on a fantastic opportunity.
With purpose, you’d instead search for ways to fix the negative impacts or find intelligent ways to counterbalance repercussions. Great examples include sustainable furniture company Simbly or Baron Fig, a notebook supplier. Both use plenty of wood and paper to create their product. To give back, they plant a tree for every item sold. It’s a nod to accountability and respect for our incredibly interconnected world.
As businesses and consumers better understand this interconnectedness, it’s clear that organizations play a critical role in ongoing sustainability. Whether it’s planting a tree, launching a social enterprise, or exploring other ways to contribute, finding that purpose is one essential step in the right direction.
Systems Thinking and Leadership
It’s human nature to try and break concepts apart into easily digestible pieces. Just imagine all of the different segments within any industry—or even within a single organization. Then, where do “outside” ideas like a social good fit in?
Of course, there are benefits to segmentation. It’s simply too much for our minds to absorb so much information at once. However, when it comes to business strategies involving global impact, we have to look at the world differently.
Rather than a siloed, linear existence, Tom wants us to think about the planet as one interconnected circular system, or what’s called Systems Thinking. “Essentially, the world is made of systems,” he says. “We as human beings are systems. Bacteria are systems. Organizations are systems. The economy is a system. We’ve come to realize that this is actually how the world works.”
When taking a Systems Thinking approach to business, teams first must carefully analyze their current impact. It’s a scientific way to grasp how an organization shapes society and the environment. “With Systems Thinking, you try to look at a system as its whole,” says Tom. “How does it behave as a whole before we start chopping it up.”
He takes Systems Thinking further by closely studying models of existing successful systems. “There are universal principles on how healthy systems behave,” he says. “Healthy systems of all kinds conform to a set of characteristics that we can describe quite quantitatively.”
By pinpointing these characteristics, Tom gains more profound insights into what supports healthy economies and companies. “It has relevance to how we think about the economy, our organizations, and how we run our organizations,” he says. “If we can know what that looks like, we should try to make that happen.”
As research on Systems Thinking has progressed, three universal principles behind healthy systems have emerged: purpose, values, and alignment. They serve as an excellent place for leaders to jumpstart their strategy:
- Purpose: What role does your purpose play? This isn’t just about the obvious objectives. Consider how products and services contribute to, or take away from, the entire system’s health. This includes the environment, community, and your co-workers. Also, what are the company’s leaders doing to promote your purpose both internally and externally.
- Values: “We need to go through a fundamental shift—a shift at the values level,” Tom says. Today, he sees a massive deficit in values-driven leadership. Tom encourages those in business to fully understand their company’s values and how they’re promoted to boost leadership values. How can they take these values, improve on them if necessary, and effectively promote their values across the organization?
- Alignment: Purpose and values mean little if the management team isn’t aligned on integration. Consider how the company’s top leaders will support your values-based company culture. Then ensure that everyone understands exactly what that means.
If this deep examination and eventual roll-out sound intimidating, no need to worry. Tom considers even the smallest steps forward a win, and there’s no perfect answer. “Nobody can say what the right set of values are,” he says.
Ultimately, it’s a powerful exercise in understanding how your organization can impact society. Even the tiniest step forward might make somebody’s day. The next step transforms a community. Soon enough, your purpose-driven leadership might just change the world.
Originally posted on Forbes.com
The conversation with Tom Rippin continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. In our chat, we talk more about systems thinking, great examples of purpose-driven businesses, his work at On Purpose, and more! Don’t miss an article or episode of the podcast by signing up for my mailing list. You’ll also get a free guide to my favorite mindful resources. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.