Who’s responsible?

What business leaders are saying

Over the past few months, we’ve connected with around 100 UK leaders to see how purpose and responsibility are faring in their businesses. Through a mix of informal conversations and an online survey, we’ve teased out some interesting insights.

Here’s what we have learned…

Insight #1: Good things come in small packages

Smaller businesses are making a lot of noise around purpose at the moment. Whether it’s the rise of B Corps businesses, the emergence of membership groups such as Positive, or the coalition of SMEs getting behind The Better Business Act, the small guys are seizing the moment.

What’s more, there seems to be a disparity between smaller and larger companies when it comes to the centrality of purpose and responsibility. In our survey, 7 out 10 smaller firms cited they were ‘genuinely purpose-led and have embraced responsibility as core to how we operate’ compared with larger firms, where that number was less than 1 in 2.

Why the disparity? Well, for smaller businesses the founder/privately owned aspect is key. If their principals are clear that responsibility really matters, it will run through the company like words through a stick of rock. And unsurprisingly, for larger firms factors such as leadership teams with differing agenda and shareholders who remain focused on maximising returns are just a few of the things holding back buy-in.

Insight #2: Smells like team spirit

Business leaders are increasingly cottoning on that purpose and responsibility tend to capture the attention of the workforce. In our survey, we found that 66% of leaders saw ‘creating a sense of pride amongst staff’ as the #1 benefit of adopting a responsibility/purpose-led approach to business (scoring higher than the prizes of customer loyalty or attracting the best talent).

Beyond that stat, the conversations we’ve had reinforce the notion that when it comes to purpose, workers come first. As one leader of a fast-growing SME put it: “We absolutely should be inspiring our employees with what we stand for. Our purpose should be the thing that makes them think: ‘I’m proud to work here, I want to be a part of this.’”

Insight #3: Start with why I should care

Amongst the majority of leaders we spoke to there was a genuine interest and ambition to put (and keep) purpose at the centre of their business. But there are clearly some universal challenges they face in doing this, including:

Demonstrating how the business is genuinely being responsible (beyond just ticking a box)
Communicating the impact of this approach (beyond glib purpose statements and glossy CSR reports)
Proving the value of being purpose-led (especially to customers and shareholders, who may feel that approach is ‘costing’ them)

As one respondent put it: “Our biggest challenge is the constant need to convince stakeholders to do things differently, rather than the default. For many, it’s a new way of looking at the world.”

So where do we go from here? We are in an environment where businesses of all shapes and sizes are more focused on social impact than ever.

We have ideas on where business can go next – but we’d love to hear your views too.
If you’re interested in a chat, why not get in touch.

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