Key Purpose Developments That Will Influence Business in 2016

22021722082_f464cf7817_zBy Carol Cone and The Purpose Collaborative

Purpose as a powerful strategy to conduct business from the inside out has gained substantial ground in 2015 and will only have more impact in 2016. Here is what we see, with contributions from the 21-member Purpose Collaborative.

Purpose as a description has eclipsed corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability, shared value and other definitions, because when strategically executed it integrates the entire enterprise, powering it boldly from the inside out. Purpose driven vision and execution knits organizational culture and behavior, product sourcing and supply chain, employee recruitment and inspiration, company citizenship, engaging storytelling and stakeholder relations and understanding key to the enterprise’s success.

Key areas of purpose impact include: hiring “purposeful” employees; engaging a vast and new type of social-purpose inspired consumers called Aspirationals; developing urgent and empathetic initiatives; and breakthrough ways of giving and collaborations to attack complex and far-reaching social and environmental challenges.

Here is what we are seeing:

1. Our national workforce becomes more purpose-driven and individually empowered

More and more workers want purpose in their jobs or feel empowered to choose their own adventure by starting a company or freelancing. Until recently though, purpose in the workplace felt “soft” and esoteric without real data behind it. But that’s changed.

Imperative, a member of the Purpose Collaborative, recently released their 2015 Purpose Workforce Index that put data and ROI at the heart of why and how to build purpose into the workplace. The report identified the attributes of “purpose” workers finding them more intrinsically driven, developing more meaningful relationships at work, gaining higher rates of productivity and fulfillment.

If companies wish to remain competitive in 2016 and beyond, their HR teams should formulate, build and rebuild their workforce to be filled with people excited to do challenging and meaningful work. These types of employees are more likely to be leaders, have higher retention rates, and instantly hit the ground running accelerating an organizations innovation and overall growth. And it goes back to the M-word – millennials — changing the face of work. They desire to work at companies who demonstrate their values in action, embracing social missions within their business models, and some are even willing to decline higher salaries to work for these types of organizations.

A company’s purpose is no longer restricted to a brand or mission statement and can now be at the heart of an organization’s hiring policies, engagement strategies and embedded into every employee’s role.

To attract purpose-driven workers, companies should adopt new HR methods and policies to identify, understand and empower purpose-driven workers to be more creative, energetic and collaborative. Apple and west elm are designing specific job functions to evolve traditional retail jobs (a sector that has the lowest percentage (16 percent) of purpose-driven workers) to screen hires and attract more engaged talent. West elm now has its managers optimize interviews processes, performance reviews and job descriptions to prioritize relationship building, and personal growth. While this minority percentile is high in demand, organizations have many opportunities to populate their internal teams with purpose-driven workers and it begins with attracting, hiring and onboarding extraordinary talent. Learn more how you can “unleash your organization’s potential” with Imperative’s innovative HR insights.

2. The ‘aspirational’ consumer redefines purchasing behavior

Global branding and innovation consultancy BBMG defined a new, rising market segment known as the ‘aspirationals.’ Representing 39 percent of global consumers, this group is represented across every culture, age, geography and income, yet shares key core values – they’re optimistic about the future, love to shop, identify closely with their style, aspire to consume responsibly, and take pride in being influencers.

Based on research from more than 22,000 respondents across 22 international markets, the Aspirational generation is defined by the desire for their actions to meet their needs, have a positive impact on others and connect them with an ideal or community that’s bigger than themselves. With the largest presence among Millennials and growing strength in emerging markets, Aspirationals are connecting the right thing to do with the cool thing to do, creating new possibilities for brands, business and society.

Aspirationals matter because they are the first to unite materialism, sustainability values and cultural currency, making them an essential audience to build markets, influence cultural norms and shape behavior change at scale.

By understanding the aspirationals, in 2016 brand leaders will be able to think more creatively, design more holistically and act more purposefully for a world where we can all thrive together.

3. Purpose-driven brands will act with greater practical urgency and empathy. 

In a world over-saturated with content, bombarded with stimulation and filled with nanosecond attention spans, how does a company/brand become a “signal” in the noise? Brands will adopt “practical urgency” around pressing social issues and take actions to build empathy with their audiences.

While most major retailers opened their doors on Black Friday with glee, REI took a radically different approach and launched its “Opt Outside” campaign. The iconic outdoor retailer shunned Black Friday closing all 143 locations and while paying its 12,000+ employees – encouraging staff and customers to spend the day outdoors instead. The results were dramatic. REI put their values in action, strengthening their relationship with employees, customers and their wider community (including the press!) This action humanized the REI brand as the company sacrificed significant sales on one of the highest-volume sales days of the year staying true to its mission.

Even tech monoliths like Google can elicit humanity by designing with empathy. With more than 1 billion people in the world with a disability, Google is incorporating empathy into its user experience by being cognizant of color blindness, taking special care to label everything carefully for the visually impaired and encouraging developers to widely incorporate screen readers for blind people. The company hosts regular workshops with its apps team to demonstrate how handicapped users interact with their designs.

In 2016, customers are going to demand that companies operate from a more empathetic and human lens as opposed to decisions made on a pure financial basis. Today’s best brands will adopt empathy and urgency when connecting with their audiences.

4. Video content becomes more immersive and raw, putting the viewer inside the story

Some businesses are spending huge budgets on highly scripted corporate videos that are (unfortunately) barely seen. But viewers want authenticity and “access”, not predictable and passive communications.

Today’s top brands understand this, and they’re taking bigger risks to engage their fans. Leading the way for 2016 will be immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences alongside uncut live stream content and more documentary-style video production.

Media giants Al Jazeera and the New York Times have both used VR to put their viewers in the middle of our world’s refugee crises, building empathy and greater readership in the process.

Apps like Meerkat and Periscope – and social media superstar Casey Neistat’s startup Beme – are live-streaming apps that give their audiences a more in-the-moment, uncut feel. Some early adopters include Red Bull who live streamed their “Guest House” events at Miami Music Week and GE’s behind-the-scenes interview with Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

2016 will be the year we see less teleprompted CEO interviews, and more raw and uncut experiences via virtual reality and live-stream.

5. Breakthroughs in social impact include business leaders pledging to long-term commitments, effective giving and the transformation of traditional business models

Josh Tetrick of Hampton Creek, Ross Bailey of Appear Here, Sarah Wood of Unruly and over 100 other founders of the world’s most successful tech companies have recently become members of the The Founder’s Pledge, an initiative with the mission to catalyze the next generation of philanthropists, inspiring business leaders to give now, instead of later. The premise is based on founders’ pledging between 2-21% of their personal profit towards a charitable cause of their choice before their exit. The Founder’s Pledge also emphasizes sharing best practices in philanthropic giving as well as providing a support system to startups that lack the time and resources to effectively donate.

Effective Altruism is a movement aimed towards individuals and encourages giving that’s driven by data and reason as well as compassion. Instead of donating to any charity, Effective Altruism urges its participants to consider the scale, tractability and uniqueness of a cause to maximize the impact of each donation. The movement has pledged over $350 million to global poverty interventions through its Giving What We Can campaign.

This type of long-term commitment is not limited to philanthropy. Even beyond Mark Zuckerberg’s Breakthrough Energy Coalition – Howard Buffet, grandson of Warren Buffet, recently launched i(x) Investments – a for-profit venture that closes the funding gap of companies working on global issues like clean energy, sustainable agriculture and water scarcity.

These examples turn Wall Street’s antiquated “learn, earn, return” model on its head. No longer are people waiting until their retirement to give back and reinvest in future generations. Rather a new generation of business leaders are deciding to create social impact and grow their ventures at the same time with exciting new ways to concurrently execute business and societal impact.

6. Coalitions and collaboration key to solving complex social and environmental challenges

How can we solve the complexities of climate change, poverty, disaster relief, gender equity and youth economic opportunity working on our own? Businesses, NGOs, governments and civil society are no longer content working in silos. The rise of cross-functional and cross industry partnerships is growing, with likely and unlikely working groups forming to share solutions, resources and commitments.

Prior to COP21, a collective of forward-thinking businesses and investors known as We Mean Business Coalition connected to place increased urgency on global leaders to gain a global climate agreement. Spearheaded by Richard Branson, The B Team is another global initiative for leaders with the mission to redefine business as a force for economic, social and environmental benefit. The team is packed with a diverse set of influencers including Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce), Paul Polman (Unilever) Kathy Calvin (President of the UN Foundation), Ratan Tata (Chairman Emeritus Tata) David Crane (former CEO of NRG), Arianna Huffington and many more.

Impact 2030 is a business led collaboration and is mobilizing private sector, employee volunteers to further advance, measure and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Founding partners of Impact 2030 include some of the world’s most notable companies like Google, Pfizer, IBM, Chevron and UPS.

In the spirit of common allies and goals, the Purpose Collaborative was founded in 2015 to continue to move purpose towards the center of business and brand strategy. It joins the collective passion, ethos, and knowledge of 21 companies, 226 individuals in 11 cities to invigorate purpose into brands, people and the world.

Image credit: Used with permission via Jeff Djevdet

Carol is internationally recognized for her work in Purpose and CSR. Her recently launched firm, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, is her return to her life’s passion: to educate, inspire and accelerate purpose programs and impacts for organizations, nonprofits and individuals around the globe.

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