The Purpose Driven Organisation

The desire to give back something to help those less fortunate than us has always been a driving force for humanity. This drive remains true in our business lives where there are many examples of organisations defining a higher purpose for their activities above the traditional accumulation of profit. As people are changing, this may become of competitive significance in the very near future.

Recently the global future forum (GFF) held a two-day meeting of senior executives from the retail financial services industry to examine their perspectives on the future. The group reflected that they served an oversupplied market that was highly regulated, that was distrusted by its customers and that generally provided a poor level of service. Surprisingly the group also agreed that they had lost their purpose. This loss of purpose had led them away from intimacy with their customers towards an electronic self-service supermarket model where volume of sales and cost reduction had become the new mantras, all in the pursuance of profit.

In our GFF Pulse survey nearly three quarters of respondents believe that “by 2008 organisations that differentiate themselves on customer service will enhance their market performance beyond others who have more price competitive offerings”. We appear convinced that excellent customer service will remain a winning strategy for the future.

Unisys and ‘Management Today’ magazine has run the UK Service Excellence Awards for the past nine years. In November the category winners, all measurably providing outstanding customer service, met in the south of France to share their winning ways.


Many organisation who differentiate themselves by their customer service, enhance their market performance beyond others with more price competitive offers.

The GFF co-hosted this event as a pre-cursor to a project starting in January 2005 to define what ‘excellent service’ will be like in the future. It soon became clear that it’s all about people, more accurately your people. One by one the presenters shared how they hired for attitude and trained for skill and how they demonstrated respect for each other internally on a daily basis. As one winner put it ‘hire nice people and treat them well’. This sense of wellbeing overflowed into great customer relationships.

It also emerged that many of these winning organisations were inspired by a higher purpose than pure profit accumulation. We are increasingly living in an age where there is little sustainable competitive differentiation, where regulation and technological convergence are limiting opportunities for organisations to take differentiated positions, where the availability of information makes it easy for empowered customers to make informed decisions and consequently price frequently becomes the lowest common denominator.

It is becoming clear that we are increasingly including ‘soft factors’ into our buying decisions, such as the organisation’s sustainability, social responsibility, environmental and ethical policies. According to the Pulse over 72% believed that the younger generation will not seek identity from their work but from what gives their life meaning. Companies who deliver both will attract the best, most socially responsible talent in the market.

One Service Excellence Award winner is an ‘estate agent’, not generally loved for their practices, yet this winner has enthusiastic customer advocates and committed staff who stay with them twice as long as their industry’s norm. When you’re trying to form longer-term customer relationships this could be a key factor in their competitive position. Extraordinarily this organisation is owned by three charitable trusts whose founder had a vision to ‘feed the hungry and clothe the poor’. These trusts benefit from over a million euros every year from this very profitable estate agents activity. A great story and a great financial performance. This business has a goal of being the most trusted in their sector. In an industry that has had to be regulated to prevent it from lying, their demonstrably higher purpose could be a winning formula.

But will this strategy make money in other sectors? Mervyn Pedelty, who recently retired from the position of Group Chief Executive of Co-operative Financial Services, identifies that 30% of his profit can be directly attributable to his organisation’s stance on sustainability and ethical investment.

In looking at a future with increasingly savvy customers and a scarcity of well educated and customer focused employees maybe a key to attracting both valuable groups of people will be to have a well founded, real, ‘higher purpose’ over and above just staying in business. What’s yours?

About the author
David A. Smith is Chief Executive of The global future forum