Why I still believe in Purpose – as parable and proof, not puff

Purpose is the current buzz word – high promise, but often empty of meaning.

For some, Purpose has become the latest wrapper for CSR/ESG or inauthentic advertising with agencies and consultancies of all complexions pivoting their offer to demonstrate that they too can respond to the latest topic for Board debate: a modish new business tool, rather than a business response.

And, to Circus eyes, this is a terrible shame. I rebel against this jaded cynicism and the ennui it engenders.

For us and for many others, Purpose is a useful construct for rethinking the very role of business, and for providing meaning and impact for colleague and consumer, for investor and the world at large.

I have been long in this debate.

In my early career, I worked for Terence Conran at Habitat, Nick Bonham at Bonhams Auctioneers, Rodney Fitch at Fitch, and Anita Roddick at The Body Shop. These brands were movements with a strong sense of self and an evangelical zeal – which both polarised and attracted in equal part. They were self-confident, and disciplined in their actions; you either got it or you didn’t; there was energy and momentum. Their beliefs were their business, their brand, their culture and their proposition.

Inspired by their example, Circus was founded as a strategic consultancy to work with clients on Purpose – as business strategy: able to inspire and inform every encounter for every stakeholder. Not all businesses think like this – we work with those that do. This is our complete offer. It is all we do. It is all we have done for twenty five years.

I have worked with very different types of business – in different cultures – and at different stages of development: but the five key learnings for Purpose are shared:

  1. Purpose creates differentiation and desirability – and, over time, sustainable commercial success
  2. It inspires and informs – a parable for practice
  3. It directs the colleague and customer proposition – made manifest through the totality of experiences and behaviours
  4. It is systematic and collaborative – implemented and reviewed with rigour and honesty
  5. It is the responsibility of ownership and leadership – existential and important for day to day decision making for everyone

Purpose is not dull and worthy. It is not cynical or lazy. Completely the opposite.

Purpose must create differentiation and desirability. It should start as parable – rich with meaning and intent: and should be mobilised as proof: evident across every touch point, and useful for every decision.

I still believe in Purpose and am fortunate to work with clients and collaborators who believe that business can and should be a force for good.

Written by Dilys Maltby