One of my coaching clients (who we'll call Jane), a board level director with a multi million dollar insurance firm recently asked me to speak together with her CEO (we'll call him John) so I could be clear on his goals for her. The conversation went like this...
"So John," I began, "what are those things you feel Jane needs to focus on so I can support her best?"
"Well, she's doing really well," he hemmed... "But she needs to develop her communications skills ," he hawed... "And we've got to address dealing with our strategic regulation issues, blah, blah"
"Well, okay. Maybe you could give me an idea of your organization's purpose as you see it," I said, "that will help me to work with Jane much more effectively."
He starts talking about strategic aims and profitability and stepping up leadership... ... when he finally got to compliance I could feel one of those ennui-spells coming on--you know the ones women usually reserve for blind dates? Let's just say it didn't feel particularly visionary or purposeful.
At last, he stopped. And I said, "Okay, so why are you in business?"
Then he said, "What, well, what do you mean?"
"Well, for starters, I just looked at your website before our call and I must confess to being slightly bored."
"Well, I'm surprised you're not confused, too," he said, laughing, "because I am whenever I look at it!"
"Look," I said, "let's start with having a conversation about why your company exists. What's the purpose of what you do?"
"You know what, Sam," he said, "let's say there is a family that got into a bad car accident on holiday, dad can't work now and mum is trying her best to hold it together now that they're home. What we provide is insur..." and he stopped, and his voice changed, and he said softly, "Well... what we actually do is provide peace of mind to families."
And he kept saying it over and over in different ways, awakened from the corporate speak plaguing so many executives. Suddenly, he was excited. And just as suddenly, I (and Jane) also became totally engaged in a conversation with a male CEO who's articulating his companies social purpose --seeing for perhaps the first time how his company truly makes a difference in the world.
Why does all this touchy feely stuff matter and don't shareholders only care about the bottom line?
Here is a wake-up call for Business: Women like Jane are increasingly coming into the boardroom, government and small business. They account for 85% of all consumer purchases, to the tune of nearly $15 trillion dollars; only slightly less than the entire GDP of the United States. The vast majority of these women believe business should place equal weight on society's interests, the interests of families, as they do with making profits. A staggering 93% of young millennial women would prefer to buy a cause related product.
Let that sink in for a moment...
For should Business fail to Make A Difference (M.A.D) and engage women on transformational, rather than from purely a competitive/profit oriented/marketing perspective, the day is coming when these companies will no longer be in business.
Women consumers will see no purpose for such a business, realizing there are a growing number of alternatives that do Make A Difference; they'll simply stop buying from those that don't.
Not only that, but corporations will no longer be able to attract the female talent they require to thrive as organizations. The jig is up.
Most businesses realize there is an ultimate price to pay for failing to be a good "corporate citizen"--witness the recent banking crisis and financial collapse, thank you very much--but for most, sadly, this is still only part of a marketing plan and is somewhat 'tick box'.
I see a day ahead when there is no such thing as a "business" and no such thing as a "charity" but a merging of the two. When all organizations have a social purpose to make a difference; realizing the days of bland corporate vision and values statements are over, and doing good in the world is not just part of marketing or the foray of NGO's.
Passion and purpose is what customers, employees, executives and shareholders, too, are demanding. If organizations will focus on passion and purpose, profits will come as a matter of course and they can help solve the problems of the entire world. Now that's what I call a good day's work.