Is our purpose fit for purpose?

By Alex Brown, Shell

Inspiring bolder leadership has been a rallying call from the Marketing Society for some time now. But my goodness, can Caroline Casey and Paul Polman knock the ball right of the park when it comes to inspiring truly courageous action.

Monday night saw Gemma Greaves interview outgoing CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman and Caroline Casey, founder of the Valuable 500 to understand what Purpose means to this remarkable pair specifically in the context of the business world.

Paul eloquently stated his vision for companies worldwide, highlighting an uncomfortable truth that the industry is largely lacking in moral leadership and quite frankly, as responsible human beings going about our daily business, this needs to fundamentally change to ensure the sustainability of the planet. His assertion was not conveyed as alarmist but clearly challenging the status quo and putting us as individuals front and centre of where the accountability sits.

‘We have many individual diamonds doing great things in the business world, but collectively we still don’t yet manage to shine’, Paul commented. The notion that the way companies remain resolutely focused on short term financial targets with somewhat peripheral and less well-defined D&I tick-boxes will never precipitate a cultural shift where space and freedom is required to become a true force for good.

Sustainable business goals mean different things to different people and companies, but one over-riding factor Paul suggested is; when thinking about the future of humanity and the planet, we don’t leave anyone behind. This implicitly includes the 1.3 billion individuals on the planet who live with a disability. How shocking is it then, that only 1% of this population is employed and of those that are, 4 out of 5 feel compelled to hide their disability as far as possible.

We then heard from an impassioned Caroline Casey as she explained her own purpose to mobilise the Valuable 500, a revolution of the “heart” of companies. Her mission is to have 500 companies commit to having disability an integral part of the executive suite commitments. ‘If disability is not on your board agenda, then neither is diversity…and neither is innovation, brand experience, productivity, talent, risk and reputation by the way’.

As Paul exits his current role at Unilever and forges ahead with his own life purpose which includes creating tipping points across many industries and company sizes, it was hard not be inspired by his mindful choices to positively influence the world of enterprise. What’s more, it triggered my own realisation about how simple it should be for each of us as individuals to define our own purpose journey within our own sphere of influence, no matter where in an organisation we might sit.

It struck me as we left the comfortable surroundings of the Curzon that “Under the Spotlight” was an apt name for the session, as it was in fact us, as audience members and leaders in our own circle of influence, that are very much under the spotlight to affect this cultural change. So apart from checking in with the leadership team in my own company in the coming days on where we stand on this important topic, I find myself reflecting if my own Purpose is fit for purpose too. Is yours?

By Alex Brown, Global Marketing Performance Manager at Shell