Becoming purposeful: what all big and small companies need to know

Can you scale up while still holding onto the "magic" that made your start-up so special? Radley Yeldar's Paulina Lezama writes.

In the last few years, brands and companies have realised that having a clear purpose will steer them towards success by building employee loyalty, customer preference and wider stakeholder trust, ultimately benefitting the bottom line.

For growing businesses however, the prospect of scaling up without losing the “magic” that defines their ethos can seem impossible.

These concerns aren’t unfounded. Whilst “purpose” may be seen by some as a buzzword, most brands have seen the benefit of being guided by one – especially when it becomes central to the business’ vision and strategy.

Over the course of two years’ research, Radley Yeldar’s Fit For Purpose initiative found that the companies which are most successful at embedding purpose into their business all adhere to three key principles, no matter their size or industry.

Their purpose is clearly connected to the business

Purpose is most authentic when it is relevant to the business. However, this focus on relevancy can be hard to maintain as a business grows. As this happens, make sure that either the business strategy stays relevant to the purpose, or that your purpose evolves as your capabilities do.  

In just six years TOMS grew from a start-up to a business generating $300 million in revenue, but as the company focused on rapidly scaling up, it lost sense of its ethos of being a business that ‘puts giving first’.

After taking a sabbatical, the founder of TOMS, Blake Mycoskie, realised TOMS needed to get back to the “why” that had inspired him to found the company. To do this, he made sure the next stage of business growth was clearly aligned with the company’s mission.

As a result, TOMS was re-energised: employees reconnected with the mission and could think bigger, TOMS’ coffee business was born, and more importantly the company became a movement again.

Ongoing employee engagement

Within smaller business, it’s easier to make the connection between day-to-day work and the overarching purpose of the company. This is partly due to ease of communication, which is harder to maintain in large companies without strategic outreach.

Pearson, one of the top 10 rankers in our Fit For Purpose index actively holds workshops to help all its employees, from front-line and distribution to leadership and management, understand how their role contributes to the company’s purpose of improving lives through learning.

Ensuring purpose is evident in the day-to-day workings of the business shouldn’t be limited to current employees. There is growing evidence that purpose plays a crucial role in how candidates select their next employer.

Lloyds Banking Group, another top ten Fit for Purpose Index leader, clearly articulates in its recruitment process how, by joining the group, you can help Britain prosper. As a result, it has seen its Employee Engagement Index score increase by 11 points to a score of 71 per cent, 9 points above the UK norm.

Clear and engaged leadership

Perhaps the most important principle, particularly for start-ups looking to scale up without losing purpose, is a clear and engaged leadership.

Don’t let passionate leadership be diluted with growth. As businesses grow, it is easy to restructure teams and divide them into siloes where employees have little visibility beyond their own departments and less access to senior management.

Within the top 10 brands in the Fit for Purpose Index, Radley Yeldar found that 70 per cent had proactive leaders who were actively engaged with their company’s purpose, both internally and externally. It’s about providing an example of purpose in action that employees can emulate and embed into the business from the ground up.

Using the above points as guidance, businesses of any size should feel confident in pursuing a purpose of their own. With proactive leadership and an engaged organisation, the benefits of a strategically aligned purpose will soon become apparent. Indeed, in the ‘post-truth’ society we may yet come to rely on the most purposeful organisations to lead the way towards a better world.

Paulina Lezama is the head of brand strategy at Radley Yeldar.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.