Employees want more from their employer than a paycheque. They crave a sense of pride and fulfillment and want to work for a company whose values match their own. A recent UK report found that companies with a social mission have a significant competitive advantage when attracting and retaining employees.

The same study reveals that consumers want to do business with purposeful companies. But, reports Globescan research, there is a 20 per cent gap between consumer desire to support purposeful companies and the ability to do so because they cannot find them.

Further muddying the waters for consumers is the challenge of identifying an authentic social purpose business. Many company websites boast of their social visions or social purposes on their community or sustainability pages, but this commitment is not evident on their ‘About Us’ page or in CEO or investor communications.

These are sure signs of “purpose-washing:” the company articulates a social purpose but is not guided by it. It’s a disconnect that understandably makes consumers skeptical about the true nature of a social purpose business. As a consequence, the transition to for-good businesses, markets and economies stalls.

But there’s some good news emerging: attempts are underway to define and find social purpose businesses. The UK study (referenced above) – which uses the term “mission-led” – defines the nature of social purpose this way:

  • Intent: a for-profit company with a strong strategic commitment to a social or environmental mission
  • Business model: the company’s social purpose is central to its core business model, reflecting the core commercial activity and influencing capital allocation
  • Governance and operations: the business embeds its social purpose into its governance, operations and relationships with stakeholders
  • External perception: the business publicly positions itself as social purpose

Using this definition, the UK researchers found 123,000 mission-led businesses across the UK, representing 4.3% of the economy and 4.5% of the workforce. A good start.

Want to attract and retain great employees? Build deeper relationships with clients? Advance social progress? Evolving your company to embrace a social purpose business model takes commitment and energy but you don’t have to go it alone. Here are three actions you can take right now:

  1. Read all about “social purpose” – one of the Qualities of a Transformational Company. In this research I conducted for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility on the new paradigm of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, you’ll find helpful tools and tips to get you started or help you on your purposeful journey.
  2. Check out this short primer on the Social Purpose Company.
  3. Join this upcoming webinar to hear more about this essential business trend from two thought leader practitioners who are transitioning their companies:

Shannon Schuyler is a Principal with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC US) and serves as the firm’s first-ever Chief Purpose Officer

Liz Arkinstall, Community Engagement Manager for Libro Credit Union, based in Ontario and pursuing a “prosperity purpose” in its core business model.

The future of business is social. Be part of it.

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