Why effective leadership is key to driving corporate purpose

Leadership plays a pivotal role in ensuring that a company’s corporate purpose is not just words on paper but a set of actions that resonates with stakeholders and has a beneficial impact on society at large.

NVPC corporate purpose
Leaders are important in crafting the vision and strategy to drive corporate purpose. Image: Samson via Unsplash

When it comes to driving a company’s corporate purpose and sustainability objectives, the tone must come from the top.

Effective leaders can set a clear vision and direction for the company, navigate change and adaptation, and perhaps most importantly, inspire and motivate employees to work towards the enterprise’s corporate purpose.

Corporate purpose refers to why a business exists beyond making a profit; it is when companies set forth a vision of a better world and commit to helping make that vision a reality.

Ensuring that staff members, in particular, are aligned with a company’s corporate purpose is critical. A study by EY and Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that 89 per cent of workers would be more satisfied working for a company with a shared purpose, with 85 per cent of respondents more likely to recommend a company with a strong purpose to others.

The same sentiment is also shared among leaders, with more company leaders believing that a company’s purpose is to make a positive impact on the planet. According to a survey, 93 per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs believe that companies should include social goals alongside making a profit.

It is therefore up to leaders to imbue purpose into the company and that it permeates through an organisation’s actions, according to an article by HBR. “Their actions, decisions, and communications set the example for the broader organisation, accentuating the importance of purpose in everyday reality,” the article notes.

Jessica Dourcy, chief people and culture officer at Palo IT, agrees. “Leaders are responsible for making sure everyone understands where we are going, why we are going there, and how we are going to get there,” Dourcy said. “They play a very important part in formulating the vision and strategy [to drive corporate purpose].”

Jessica Dourcy, Palo IT

Jessica Dourcy is the chief people and culture officer of Palo IT.

Purpose comes first

Palo IT is a global tech consultancy company that specialises in Agile software development, which is an approach that focuses on flexibility, collaboration and breaking down a project into smaller tasks when creating software. The company also works with organisations in their digital transformation journey. 

Palo IT has been recognised as a Champion of Good by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), which, through its Company of Good strategy, engages organisations in Singapore to adopt corporate purpose and demonstrate impact in the areas of the people, society, governance, environment and economic dimensions. The recognition is conferred upon organisations that demonstrate their commitment to being a force for good. 

The company is also a B Corp-certified company, meaning that it has been certified by B Lab, a global non-profit organisation, for its social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

For Palo IT, their journey towards developing a corporate purpose began when clients approached them from industries they felt uncomfortable working with, such as those in oil and gas, gaming and betting, and pharmaceutical companies. Lacking a framework to help them decide who to work with, Palo IT held a global workshop in 2015 where all their employees gathered to think about the future of the company.

 “What emerged from the workshop was a strong desire from employees to see more work done on positive impact,” said Dourcy. “The positive impact was defined as ‘how do we help the ecosystem?’, ‘how do we work on sustainability issues?’, and ‘how do we help our people?’”

Dourcy highlighted the complex task the company faced in signing on with new clients, especially ones that did not align too well with their corporate purpose. “It was a risky move because it is challenging to acquire clients as a tech consultancy,” she said. “But in retrospect, it was the correct decision because it eventually helped us to partner with more clients [who are aligned with our corporate purpose].”

The company also decided to stop flying its employees out to retreats in far-flung locations, Dourcy added, as it no longer aligned with its corporate sustainability vision to reduce carbon emissions. Though it was another uncomfortable decision for the company’s leadership to make, it exemplified Palo IT’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions. “If this is important for you as a corporate strategy, then you will make it happen,” she said.

However, change will not happen overnight, Dourcy warns, noting that companies starting to adopt a corporate purpose should be patient in expecting any boost in profitability in the near term. “It is a long game. It takes years to see a vision being profitable,” she noted.

But efforts have paid off, Dourcy believes, noting that by having a corporate purpose, the company has enhanced its brand reputation and improved employee retention.

“We went from a profit-driven company to a company that looked at financial performance through the three Ps: people, profit and planet,” said Dourcy. “Our philosophy is that you can do very well financially and you can also do good to the world. You shouldn’t have to decide between the two.”

Beyond boosting employee morale and satisfaction, having a corporate purpose also reminds company leaders themselves why the company exists and helps them look toward the long term.

Purpose-driven companies know that success goes beyond profit maximisation; it must also be measured in terms of the well-being of billions of people and the health of our planet. 

Caroline Seow, co-founder and director of B Lab Singapore

Andrew Lim, Boxgreen

Andrew Lim is the co-founder of Boxgreen

The right tone from the top

Leaders are indeed responsible for creating a workplace culture that supports corporate purpose, says Andrew Lim, who is the co-founder of Boxgreen, a Singapore social enterprise established in 2014 that prepares healthy, portion-controlled snacks free from artificial colours and flavouring. It was recognised as a Champion of Good by the NVPC in 2020 and is also a B Corp-certified company. 

Through its partnership with social enterprises Yellow Ribbon Project and MINDS, Boxgreen’s snacks are prepared by former offenders and the special needs community, providing marginalised segments of society with training and employment opportunities. A portion of the proceeds from each snack goes towards providing meals for the less privileged.

Knowing their company is doing good within the community, Lim highlights, instils a sense of meaning and purpose among its employees. “We believe that employees are more engaged, productive, and innovative when they feel their work is purposeful and has a positive impact on the world,” he said.

Boxgreen’s corporate purpose to “snack good, do good” also drives sustainability within the company. “Our purpose guides Boxgreen’s efforts to reduce waste, promote sustainable consumption and explore new ways to upcycle food waste,” said Lim.

Beyond being a mission statement, Lim agrees that having a corporate purpose can also have an impact on company operations, guide decisions, and align employees towards one common goal.

“It’s often easy to lose sight of the larger purpose when facing a cashflow crunch or operational hiccups in the business,” he said, emphasising the importance of developing a clear and concise purpose statement that serves as a first principle for business and operational strategies. “This helps to ensure that everyone is aligned with the company’s social impact goals.”

Because having a corporate purpose can also shape a company’s identity, leaders themselves must be held accountable for their actions and work towards the company’s success, Lim adds. Effective leadership also involves tracking company progress in fulfilling its corporate purpose and transparently communicating updates.

“By sharing progress, a company can demonstrate that it is making a positive impact and is committed to its mission,” said Lim, noting that Boxgreen communicates its progress internally through weekly meetings, and externally through monthly newsletters and social media.

Benefitting from the ecosystem

Earning recognition as a Champion of Good and obtaining B Corp certification enabled Palo IT to learn how to effectively deploy strategies from other similar companies, how to execute their vision and the best way to refine their processes and frameworks.

“Getting that information is not something we would have been able to achieve without those two communities (B Corp and NVPC),” said Dourcy. “We get a lot of inspiration from them.”

Caroline Seow, co-founder and director of B Lab Singapore – the non-profit organisation that created and awards the B Corp certification for for-profit organisations – notes that businesses can only truly thrive if they benefit society.

“Purpose-driven companies know that success goes beyond profit maximisation; it must also be measured in terms of the well-being of billions of people and the health of our planet,” Seow said. “B Lab and NVPC share this vision of creating a collective and durable prosperity, transparently and with accountability to benefit all people and the planet.”

Being part of the B-Corp and NVPC ecosystem has also helped Boxgreen and Palo IT to understand industry standards, how their initiatives are performing and areas to improve.

“Being recognised by NVPC and B-Corp is a game changer,” said Dourcy, highlighting how having external auditors from both communities checking and verifying their initiatives has helped them maintain accountability for their actions and kept them on track.

Lim concludes that the combined support from NVPC and B Labs continues to help companies like Boxgreen to reinforce a purpose-driven company culture. “[Their support has helped] to align our organisational values with our commitment to making a positive impact on society and the environment,” Lim said. “They have also made the journey less lonely.”

In light of the increasing importance of corporate purpose for organisations, NVPC is launching the new Company of Good Recognition System in January 2024. The new system pivots from the current system of emphasising corporate giving to recognising corporate purpose, and will measure companies in five impact areas: people, society, governance, environment and economic.

“As companies navigate the dynamic business landscape, being guided by corporate purpose enables them to make positive change for people, planet, and prosperity. This is not just a strategic direction for business; it is a commitment to a shared future where success is measured not only in financial gains but in the enduring impact that companies create for a better world,” said Lin Sufei, deputy director, Corporate & Industry Partnerships, NVPC.

“As the steward of the City of Good vision for Singapore, NVPC will continue to engage with and recognise companies in Singapore that make meaningful contributions as Companies of Good, and work with ecosystem partners who share the same goal for Singapore and beyond.” 

Learn more about the Company of Good Recognition System.

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