Why Businesses Need Purpose – 1st in a series of distillations from Wavelength Connect’s Behind the Brand modules.
A unique part of Wavelength’s Connect programme takes participants inside a range of organisations Behind the Brand to learn first-hand, warts n’ all, from those that have been there and done it. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at what they learnt and showing some examples of who shines within Wavelength’s nine fundamental characteristics of high performing organisations. The first characteristic we are going to look at is Purpose.
A clear and compelling purpose gives a business it’s reason for existence and serves as a guiding force for all decisions. It sets the tone and dictates how time, attention and resources should be spent to best serve customers.
The tech-driven global hospitality giant – Airbnb – lives and breathes its purpose to create a world where you can ‘belong anywhere’. This continues to excite intrepid travellers and gives hosts across the globe the unique opportunity to make money from sharing their home. It’s a purpose that has proved utterly compelling, disrupted an entire market and propelled Airbnb way beyond the paradigm of good value accommodation. It has also enabled them to branch into other areas including Airbnb experiences, which connects travellers with locals for authentic opportunities to experiment with different activities and ‘belong’.
This notion of ‘belonging’ is embedded in everything they do. Pictures of hosts and their families adorn walls. Their physical environment is a constant reminder of their purpose. Employees are given a space to ‘belong’ in the form of comfortable and home-like meeting areas based on live listings, as well as flexible working and perks.
A different, but equally compelling, example is Dutch retail bank SNS (part of De Volksbank ‘the people’s bank’). Their purpose – or manifesto (as they refer to it) is based on ‘human touch’ and ‘financial resilience’.
As Ronald Pieters, their director of retail and advice said: “Our manifesto is very, very important for us. It’s about sustainability, financial resilience and that there’s more to life than making money.”
After the financial collapse of 2009, the bank like many others went into crisis and was nationalised. It became clear that trust was a big issue for them.
Adopting this purpose took them back to their roots to serve ‘small businesses and normal people’ and help customers survive and thrive through financial ups and downs. It’s enabled them to consistently articulate who they are, who they serve and maintain a high street presence through stores (notably not banks!) managed by franchise partners. It has led to a significant turnaround in profits and perception.
While SNS’s purpose lies in its roots, The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts adopts a more aspirational approach ‘to create impressions that last a lifetime’. The focus being to consistently offer unique and memorable experiences. This was demonstrated in the Hampshire based hotel, through details both large and small.
The company acknowledged, while they can’t always pre-determine what those experiences will be, they will be driven by the all-encompassing purpose. An example was shared of one of their team working on the spa reception. Chatting to a regular spa member, she learnt that the customer was about to visit Rome. Being from Rome, she later that evening produced a hand-written locals guide (with illustrations) which she compiled as a booklet to deliver to the customer (on her day off!). An act clearly driven by purpose. The customer was bowled over by the level of attention and thought.
It’s not something you can teach in a manual, but a clear purpose often results in actions that are genuine and that go above and beyond expectations.
Connecting with a purpose also gives people reassurance, guidance, inspiration and direction. Its importance can never be underestimated!
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