A few months back, I led a panel at the annual Points of Light conference in Houston, TX, where we discussed some very important topics along with one very small word: “and.” As in, how to bring credibility and sustainability to a company’s purpose, or how to connect strategies, concepts and people. Embracing this simple conjunction, and the connection and inclusivity it represents, empowers organizations and brands to pursue their purpose while engaging stakeholders. This notion continues to have a great deal of resonance and currency.
At the conference, I was joined by four stellar panelists:
Anna Cunningham, Manager of Community Investments at Starbucks
John Edmiston, National Manager of Community Engagement at Kaiser Permanente
Sarah Mountcastle, Marketing Manager of the Global Nutrition Group at PepsiCo
Emily Saunoi-Sandgren, Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility at Target
For 90 minutes, we discussed how companies are engaging customers, employees and other stakeholders using programs from purpose-driven business models.
We opened the discussion with each panelist describing his or her company’s purpose and why it’s important. Then we explored specific initiatives they’d undertaken, and ended by examining key strategies to operationalize purpose. The conclusion: Purpose requires inclusivity and flexibility — rather than employing strategies that are one way or another, leverage purpose by embracing the power of ”and.“ For example, having an organizational signature focus on a key social or environmental issue and allowing local business units to select social issues engagement based on local needs.
So what strategies can companies employ to leverage and operationalize purpose?
There are many, and nearly all embrace the power of “and” — the power to pursue several approaches simultaneously, not just one or another.
Saunoi-Sandgren advised attendees to find a balance between your company’s patience for change and its urgency to act. Test, learn and act all at the same time.
Cunningham cautioned against letting the pursuit of perfection stop you. Go with a not-fully-baked idea and continue to listen to yourself, key stakeholders and employees.
Montcastle stressed that purpose is woven into individual objectives and that a company must deliver business and social results in the right way.
The following are the guidelines from our discussion, which demonstrate the power of “and” to effectively leverage and operationalize purpose:
Develop initiatives with feedback from the top down and the bottom up.
Employ a focused approach to a social issue and allow employees the flexibility to select personalized actions that serve the community.
Include senior management in program development and in hands-on volunteering.
Measure success with qualitative individual stories and quantitative metrics.
Test and scale at the same time.
Gain accountability by building company-wide and individual goals, and writing them into KPIs.
Execute the tried-and-true and push towards new, courageous actions.
Leverage spokespersons as external celebrities and internal heroes.
Establish control via project selection and goal setting and leave room for ambiguity. The interaction of the two can bring transformative program results and stories.
Define community where there are local operations and where products are sold.
Edmiston’s closing remarks reminded us that strategy and humanity go hand in hand. He shared how Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered after Hurricane Katrina with the Gulf Coast Recovery Project, all on their personal time, and how the project blossomed into the largest national volunteer program in the company’s history.
Edmiston’s core “and” insight was that focusing on purpose programs related to the business and doing things not related to business objectives — “just doing the right thing” in a very human and sharing way — can build powerful company culture and varied outcomes.
And. Such a small word. But such a powerful “force for good” for purpose-driven organizations.