Profit & Meaning: What Purpose Companies Serve

Profit & Meaning: What Purpose Companies Serve -

Companies are working on giving meaning (the “why”) and a higher goal (purpose) to bind customers and employees. A tight one-liner about ‘the why’ and ‘what’ of the organization could, according to many types of research, secure both the client and the employee in their need for meaning. A kind of commercial spirituality. How successful are companies in involving customers and employees using a higher goal? Can organizations be a credible seeker in a meaning economy?

According to LinkedIn, there is still a lot to be gained. Their Global Purpose Index from 2016 (pdf) shows that two of the three employees are mainly looking for money or status. Two years earlier, the Gallup research bureau came up with the shocking conclusion that only 9 percent of working Dutch people are actively involved in their jobs. In that case, a fast calculation will result in some 7.82 million employees who would not be involved daily in their working life. For the time being, employers do not seem to be able to link work and meaning. And that while the call for meaningful work sounds louder.

Generation Why

Especially starters and entrants on the labor market expect different things from their employers than their parents. Ninety percent (pdf) of millennials wants to do ‘something good’ in their working lives and seeks meaningful work with impact. According to a recent study (pdf), the generation after them (the so-called centennials) purpose is even more critical. It is for them the factor that weighs heaviest in the search for a new job. Experiencing a higher goal of their work ensures that they stay longer. From an HR perspective, this is reason enough to link work to a higher goal. There are, however, many other benefits for the organization that is about more than earning money.

The higher goal

It seems that having a higher goal and earning money go hand in hand. For example, a meta-study by the Gallup mentioned above shows that higher employee engagement has many positive effects on legendary steering figures. For instance, according to Gallup, this involvement yields the following:

22% more productivity
21% more profit
37% less absenteeism
48% fewer accidents at work
41% fewer production errors

The world top of consultancy firms also pays tribute: according to Booz Allen, banks organized around purpose enjoy 11 percent more return on equity. Numerous studies seem to point in the same direction. If you want to earn more like an organization, you have to talk about other things besides money.

High expectations

And how do involved customers think about organizations that pursue a higher goal? The corporate sector collectively enjoys 11 percent more confidence than the government and only 1 percent less than good causes. 61 percent of millennials and centennials (the Z-generation) prefers brands that stand for something. 80 percent of this target group expects organizations to improve economic and social conditions within the community in which they operate.

Expectations are high, and companies that manage to link their activities to a positive social impact are responding well to their marketing activities. According to the annual BrandZ survey, these companies enjoyed a 105 percent increase in brand value over the past twelve years compared to organizations with a low social impact. This was made possible in part by the 55 percent of millennials worldwide that according to research firm Nielsen is prepared to pay extra for products and services in the sign of a higher goal.


The exact figures on the benefits of a guiding purpose on the organization vary per study. But a definite conclusion seems to be that substantial benefits can be achieved. No wonder companies such as Coca-Cola, ING, and Nike do not sell soft drinks, banking services or sports shoes anymore. They sell happiness, lead, and self-transcendence. Purpose and meaning are as central to modern companies as the old-fashioned vision, mission, and strategy. Both the organization, their employees and their customers are looking for meaning, a higher goal to which they can commit themselves. I already say that you already have a precise recipe for success.


The practice appears to be more stubborn. With my agency, we do some four years of research into the credibility of purpose statements and organizational values. We believe that trust in the sincerity of a higher goal is a prerequisite for success. That sounds logical, but when values ​​and money are in the balance, purpose, and values ​​turn out to be negotiable in practice.

This is also apparent from our research into the credibility of purpose among more than two thousand employees of higher-level organizations. 69 percent of respondents feel that their organization is failing to comply with their values. Setting a shared higher goal merely is easier than observing it. Whoever says A and does B loses confidence. In this way, purpose, which is intended to strengthen faith in the organization, is counterproductive. Organizations with low confidence in their values ​​and purpose perform worse than organizations with a lot of trusts. This is evident in our research time and time again.

Tiling wisdom

The question that remains is why organizations fail to connect the needs of the client and employee to a higher goal, and thereby (also) be commercially successful. After a sloppy ten years working in the field of values ​​in organizations, I come to a simple conclusion. The joint sincerity of the higher goal is the most critical factor. That brings us to an interesting paradox. Organizations that serve a higher purpose earn more money if they do not pursue the higher goal to make more money.

[su_pullquote]Organizations that serve a higher purpose earn more money if they do not pursue the higher goal to earn more money.[/su_pullquote]

Lessons from practice

The effect of having a higher goal stands or falls on the credibility of that goal. Is your organization purpose-driven? These are the conditions for reliability according to research and from practice:

Credibility starts at the top

The management of the organization must be a visible ambassador of the higher goal. Otherwise, you might as well stop.

Make it measurable

Measuring the purpose (that is something other than an employee satisfaction survey) tightens the internal dialogue about trust in the organization and keeps it alive.

Weave the purpose in the primary process

The purpose is not a department with a responsible ‘purpose manager’: everyone is ‘purpose manager.’ If sometimes the result is chosen, and sometimes the higher goal, the credibility of the purpose disappears in the long term.

It may be evident: purpose can bring organizations a lot. Involving employees, attracting young talent that remains, binding customers and increasing the operating result. But if this higher goal turns out to be just a marketing exercise, you better not start it.