Business management

Sector update: the people power of purpose

Neil Bellamy, our Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms asked four specialists for their insights on the relationship between purpose and talent management.

In October 2021, research by McKinsey & Co found 40% of employees were likely to leave their current job in the following three to six months. As businesses continue to face various headwinds on a global scale, retaining talent and attracting great people remains a challenge.

  • Could purpose-driven brands gain a competitive advantage in the labour market? 
  • Do businesses with a clear purpose stand a better chance of attracting diverse talent? 
  • If your business is completely transparent and  authentic, are you more likely to weather any storms?

We put these questions and more to four specialists who live and breathe purpose in their own organisations, with winning results.


Katie Coupe, Vice President of Human Resources, BetterUp: Katie is responsible for the end-to-end execution of BetterUp’s talent strategy.

Willow Hill, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Scout Lab: Willow leads the creative team in building global brands that focus on Generation Z and millennial audiences.

Olivia Lee, Director of People and Culture, B Lab: B Lab is a non-profit international network that aims to transform the global economy.

Denise Roberson, Chief Purpose Officer, TBWA\Chiat\Day: Denise works with leading brands to initiate their business case for purpose and sustainability

What is purpose?

Core drivers include: 

  • Championing potential
  • Removing barriers to success
  • Building capability
  • Fighting climate change
  • Being authentic
  • Supporting communities
  • Operating responsibly

These often form the DNA of a business and are usually what separates purpose from mission, vision and values. “It’s as distinctive as a fingerprint,” said Denise.

“Purpose-driven organisations are regenerative. They’re looking beyond shareholders and profit to serve all stakeholders, including people and the planet,” she said. 

“By doing good and leveraging their IP and their people to solve the world’s biggest problems, incredible innovation starts to flow. We see growth in myriad different ways. We can attract talent, we can reduce employee turnover – the list goes on.”

Why does purpose matter?

In the current climate, it might seem as if purpose is a luxury in hard times. However, there remain several reasons why purpose matters when it comes to the engagement and retention of talent. 

If people are seeking to quit their jobs because they don’t feel a sense of belonging in their organisation, having a clear purpose could be a key differentiator for the business.

Belonging, meaning, and purposeful work often go hand in hand. What’s more, purpose is good for everyone. According to a report by BetterUp, turnover rates are lower for employees who feel their work is meaningful, and this translates into significant cost savings on recruitment.

What is the business case for purpose?

When a business is looking to build and grow, a purposeful strategy that deeply engages the workforce is often the most successful. 

Authentic purpose, though, must be driven by employees from the inside out, said Willow.

A report by PR agency 5W, published in December 2020, revealed that 83% of millennials want to buy from brands that align to their values. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (those born after 1997) are also seeking sustainable brands. Within the context of a fundamental cultural shift, the business case is clear. Willow believes that purpose will drive profit – that is if you do it well, if you do it intentionally and if you really stick to it. 

Business challenges, crises, threats and unrest can come from anywhere and at any time. Having a strong purpose can act as a defensive shield, said Denise. If you use your purpose as a lens to make decisions and guide your business behaviour, you can mitigate risk, position yourself with confidence and create the mechanisms for growth despite the challenges.

If purpose isn’t considered a cost centre, it can grow profit, innovation, and partnerships.

How can organisations implement a purpose-driven strategy?

Today’s start-ups are often mission-driven from day one. Purpose will be at the centre of these businesses, observed Willow, and their authenticity “will have been built from the ground up”.  

How do more established firms implement purpose and communicate their journey? Well-known brands that do it successfully tend to find the intersection between purpose and their products and services  – they genuinely try to better serve their customers and community with authentic action.  Using purpose to generate ideas and innovation for the business  is unique and creates profound positioning that’s very hard to replicate, according to Denise. 

Business leaders can identify a natural space where their brand can truly make a positive impact for the long-term and start from there. This intersection can be found in any business if its leaders are on board.

Transparency is crucial at this point. Olivia’s experience working with B Corp organisations has shown those that connect actions to purpose are considered authentic. 

Also, communicate your purpose regularly, clearly, and openly. This can attract talent to your business because people hear you and feel like they want to be with you.

Who should be involved in building a purpose strategy?

To articulate a purpose-driven strategy and achieve buy-in, who should be responsible for leading it? What steps can business leaders take to ensure it’s understood by talent inside the business as well as externally? Is there a playbook for best practice?

It has to be activated at the top: As a baseline, purpose should be prioritised by the leadership team to get the attention it needs.  “A lot of businesses think that purpose can sit with a corporate social responsibility (CSR) team or marketing team, but it really needs to sit with the C suite, and it needs to come from the inside out,” Willow advises. 

Equally important is co-creation: Involve the perspectives of the whole organisation, so employees feel purpose and meaning in their work, and it permeates through.  

It must come from an authentic place: For a purpose strategy to work for your organisation, it needs to be customised so your people get on board. 

It needs to benefits the bottom line: Staff need a clear sense of how purpose can actually benefit the business.

How do you measure purpose?

  • Assess your strategy to discover whether employees are engaged or connected with it. If employees do not feel their work is meaningful, the strategy could falter.
  • A checklist can help organisations remain on course with principles, initiatives, authenticity, and innovation.
  • Bring your stakeholders in, ask questions, and provide feedback loops.
  • Bake in some short-terms wins to show progress – bottom line improvements often take the longest time to make.
  • Get feedback from your employees before you start measuring with your customers. Your customers will tell you how they’re feeling, and if your purpose isn’t authentic, you’ll hear about it.
  • A purpose-driven strategy requires investment and time – it’s not something that can happen overnight.

Denise has a formula that works for her organisation:

Understand: You really want to get employees in particular to understand your purpose. Let them ask questions and interact with it, let them meet you where you are. 

Unlock: Once your employees are co-creating a purpose-led strategy and intuitively understand how it works, that’s when you can overlay your organisational purpose.

Unleash: Give your people the autonomy to dream big and understand what it is to fail. This is how you’ll find some of your greatest innovation.

Purpose: key takeaways

“Belonging, meaning and purposeful work are highly correlated: they fuel each other. It’s no surprise that turnover rates are lower for employees who feel work is meaningful. Purpose can be such a differentiator when done well and communicated well. It makes a lot of business sense to get this right”

Katie Coupe, Vice President of Human Resources, BetterUp

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up or a Fortune 500 company. Purpose will drive profit. It’s something every organisation is going to need to step into in some way if they want to keep up with the market, what employees are asking for and what the next generation is demanding”

Willow Hill, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Scout Lab

“Your people should be able to see themselves in your purpose and what you’re trying to accomplish. Check you’re doing the things you said you would. You can be agile, authentic, creative… and still maintain your principles, inclusivity, equity, and goals”

Olivia Lee, Director of People and Culture, B Lab

“You have to use purpose as a strategic operating system across the arc of the entire organisation. It has to be authentic, transparent and lived. This is not soft and fuzzy – if done correctly, purpose is deeply synergistic with profits and business value.  Purpose is a phenomenal solution – it allows you to engage talent in a really productive way”

Denise Roberson, Chief Purpose Officer, TBWA\Chiat\Day

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