It used to be that business was for-profit or non-profit, and never the twain shall meet. Companies were profit-driven or purpose-driven, but not really both. A survey of Fortune 1000 CEOs and C-suite executives found that 51% believe there is an inherent tension or conflict between a company being profit- or purpose-driven. Such thinking is now becoming outmoded and has reached something of a turning point.
This departure from long-held economic thinking could be a revolutionary change for shareholders, however, many investors are coming to see greater employee purpose and personal “why” working to support long-term success for the company, and in an altruistic sense, the world. Corporate America has taken a look around and some conscientious players noticed that resources were being stripped at an unsustainable rate and decided to alter the way they were doing business. Now, it’s commonplace for a company to have a defined corporate social purpose beyond generating a profit.
For these companies, if truly living into a greater purpose, their employees are more likely to buy in to the purpose-driven culture and result in increased productivity and innovation.
BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink published his annual open letter to CEOs which spread like wildfire on social media and among CEOs of companies small and large. In his missive, Fink implores CEOs to think of long-term benefits, to the company, industry, and world-at-large. He says, “Unnerved by fundamental economic changes and the failure of government to provide lasting solutions, society is increasingly looking to companies, both public and private, to address pressing social and economic issues.”
Many project-based leaders report that on entering a new company, they discover that staff don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing beyond the financial aspect. There is often no vision for anyone to buy in to. Interims can prove to be change agents when a company has lost its way or become too mired in the day-to-day to see the big picture. Using InterimExecs’ Rapid Executive Deployment Program, Styrotek, a family-owned food packaging manufacturer was able to reverse losses, avert shutdown, and return to growth and profits thanks to a strongly mission driven CEO. InterimExecs connected Styrotek with interim CEO, Dick Lindenmuth, who started with water conservation, focusing on reducing water waste in manufacturing, which led not only to cost savings but a cleaner production process that didn’t corrode machinery.
Sometimes the mission driven leader finds their best and highest use within non-profit organizations. InterimExecs placed CEO, Michelle Barnes, with the Tourette Association of America to address an overall state of chaos, as described by the chairperson and other executives. The organization was facing a tough financial situation, demoralized donors and staff. Barnes came in as a change agent, shepherding in the next stage of growth. She prepared the organization for the next permanent CEO by developing and implementing an action plan, putting it in place with support from the board, staff, and donors. Most recently Barnes has been appointed by the new governor as the Head of Human Services for the state of Colorado. For the next four years, she will bring all her mission-based leadership skills to bear to support the people of Colorado.
You can call it an authentic values-driven mission statement – or knowing your why – but it first comes from within, not from the external circumstances of the company at hand.