Putting purpose to work: Taking external stakeholders on the journey with you
‘It’s about the journey, not the destination.’
This is, of course, a well-worn saying. But the words are surprisingly meaningful when we pause, reflect and think about it. This saying rings true in equal measures in life and business. For companies on the path to becoming purpose-led, the saying is an encouragement to enhance stakeholder value and recognise external groups as an integral part of purpose development.
In the previous pieces in our series, we established the critical importance of defining your company purpose and how to go about connecting your internal stakeholders with why the company exists. But companies risk their purpose only living on their office walls if they don’t connect with external stakeholders and bring them along on their purpose journey. There is a very clear distinction between a company purpose that exists and a company purpose that lives. Being purpose-led results in the purpose and values acting as the company’s North Star, which informs strategic decision making and governance all the way to how innovation, growth plans and HR policies are set and managed.
The first step to engaging external stakeholders is prioritisation – really drilling down and identifying who they are and why they are important. The external stakeholders you identify today may not be relevant in a year’s time. Take time to assess them on a regular basis and be willing to adapt as their needs and relationship with your company changes.
There are various benefits to doing this right. An external perspective on your purpose adds context for and anchors your purpose in real life context and give a sense of ownership to all those that have a stake in your business. Most of the time, seeing the company through outside eyes brings a shift in thinking with internal stakeholders and a layer of buy-in that is otherwise hard to find.
“Sounds good but how do we go about it?”
We work with various clients who really put their external stakeholders at the heart of their purpose. One such client is the Co-op, who we’ve worked with to demonstrate the power of coming together through their Co-op Local Community Fund.
- Consult with an open mind
Go directly to your external stakeholder groups – nobody knows their needs better than them. Companies often focus on communicating their purpose and ensuring external stakeholders know what it is, instead of using stakeholder dialogue as an exercise to listen and understand. Engaging with these groups should be approached like any other business project planning process, with strong analysis, preparation, implementation and reporting.
The consultation process will teach you how to better connect with your stakeholders and how your operations affect them, and what resources and influence they can bring to bear. Companies can gain a detailed understanding through creating space for two-way communication and be open to interpreting and applying their purpose for different groups.
The Co-op wanted to do exactly that. They took time to understand what is really important to their members – and that’s community. This sense of community is engrained in what the Co-op stands for and is why they created a programme to connect their members with their communities.
- Connect in a meaningful way
Connecting is critical – customers and communities will believe and trust more in the things they feel part of, or that have relevance or meaning to their lives and values.
Give customers the opportunity, through engaging with your business, to support the causes they most care about, too – whether it’s through a point or reward system or a commitment from the company to contribute to a specific need in their community. Be present and connect them in a way that creates value and makes them feel like they are part of your company.
For the Co-op the solution was simple. For every own brand product or service bought by a member, the Co-op pledge 1% of the receipt value to charity. Members then have the opportunity to choose from one of three local causes to donate the funds to.
This connects customers with charities in their local communities and in turn, helps grassroots community organisations make an impact in the local area.
- Collaborate where possible
Consulting with external stakeholders will bring lots of interesting innovative thoughts and ideas to the fore. Don’t feel like it’s up to your company alone to fulfil these ideas and connections. Collaboration is king. Find like minded organisations to help you deliver real value. Collaboration unlocks potential, capacity and knowledge and saves time and money.
Co-op was able to run most of the programme themselves and put the infrastructure in place to track donations and give members the opportunity to vote for their chosen charity. Collaborating with CAF enabled them to match their ambition of scale, reaching communities across the country and creating deep connections – meaning that the communities themselves, through the support they had received, became part of Co-op’s community.
- Check-in to keep yourself on track
To ensure you retain a focus on impact, set targets and measure progress against them. Doing a proper health check on your impact and how external stakeholders perceive your purpose is critical to ensure you stay true to what you say (and think) you’re doing.
Just because your strategy and action plans are anchored in your purpose, it doesn’t mean that it’s faultless. It requires review and input on a regular basis. If you’ve engaged with the communities you operate in the same way for a long period of time, check that your activities still make sense and are creating tangible value. Just as your operations are always evolving, so are the communities and customers.
Be bold and authentic
Purpose is a shift in mind set and so requires a fundamental shift in the nature of relationships across all stakeholder groups. By aligning external stakeholders with purpose and purpose-led actions, building belief and commitment, we can grow more sustainable and more human companies – better equipped with the resilience and adaptability needed to face the volatility and complex challenges of today, and in the future.
This is the third in a four-part blog series by Skating Panda and Charities Aid Foundation, the final blog will explore how to maximise external buy-in from communities and consumers.