The world of business has changed. Gone are the days when organisations could behave however they pleased without fear of being reprimanded. Indeed, the behaviour of brands has never come under such intense scrutiny. Whether we’re talking about tax affairs or unsavoury company cultures, businesses are increasingly expected to do the right thing.
Businesses and entrepreneurs that embrace good works and embed purpose at their core reap the rewards. Loyalty of employees and customers alike is improved by the feeling of a mission and purpose. In an age where principles and integrity have a real financial return, dedicating a percentage of profits or giving a voice to a cause can really pay.
Research by American Express has shown that 62% of millennials believe it is important for them to be known for making a positive difference in the world, while 64% believe success to mean enjoying the work that they do.
This may not seem particularly remarkable but, when compared to the significantly smaller 51% that believe it is important for a job to pay well, these findings constitute evidence of a significant paradigm shift in workplace priorities. In order to attract the best possible employees and to really succeed, businesses must display the best possible ethos.
Furthermore, when asked what qualities successful businesses of the future will possess, 74% of millennials believe the key was to ‘have a genuine purpose that resonates with people’. A preoccupation with purpose is not only about personal development, but a firmly held belief that purpose leads to success. This belief could well be substantiated, looking at recent UK retail successes.
Recruits, however, are not the only desirable asset that roll into clearly purpose-driven business. Recent research revealed that 75% of consumers believe that brands should be doing more to impact our wellbeing positively, but only 40% believe they are doing so. This presents a real opportunity; businesses could experience substantial growth simply by inspiring that significant contingent of consumers with a genuine purpose.
One of the most prominent brands on the British high-street, Lush cosmetics, has benefited hugely from its ethical position and status as a business ‘doing good’, with the company experiencing a 75% jump in pre-tax profits to £43.2m last year.
Its success isn’t simply financial however; a recent survey showed Lush to be in the top 15 employers in the UK according to it’s workforce, and in the top 10 retailers according to shoppers. This rate of approval is due to many factors, of which the £6.3m donated to charity globally is certainly one. The company has also positioned itself in the centre of the campaign against animal testing, campaigns against fracking, and in support of marriage equality in a number of countries.
Lush’s beliefs are so deeply rooted that they reject the term ‘ethical business’, on the basis that it implies corporate social responsibility is a novelty, rather than the norm that it should be for companies.
When a business is discernibly purpose driven, there is an extra incentive to align yourself with that brand as a consumer. A story and a goal of an organisation is something to be a part of, rather than a bottom line to simply benefit.
It needn’t be done alone: the more actors in a movement, the more impact it will inevitably have. Through cooperation and nurturing, a network of various different enterprises with the same goals can do more and go further than a company acting alone.
These changes in attitudes towards the responsibilities of business have already taken place, the only way that we can future-proof our ventures is to embrace them and endorse them. Short-term, purely financial goals are now inferior to a longer term vision that will inspire employees, investors and your target market simultaneously.
Ultimately in the question of entrepreneurial success, you will get as much as you give.
Maurice Ostro is founder of Entrepreneurial Giving, the community of purpose-led entrepreneurs.
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