Purpose & Performance
On 15 September 2016, a Blueprint for Better Business convened a panel discussion with top academics to explore the link between purpose and performance. The panel was chaired by Andrew Hill (FT) and was attended by around 150 business professionals. The event included London Business School Professors Alex Edmans and Ioannis Ioannou, Plymouth Business School Associate Professor Victoria Hurth, and Professor of Economics & Business Ethics at Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Professor Helen Alford.
The panellists brought a range of different perspectives to include insights from rigorous academic research and the initial findings from a field study with 14 UK businesses on a purpose journey. Professor Ioannou’s research found that between 1992 and 2010 environmentally sustainable companies delivered over 50% more return on investment than their counterparts. Professor Edmans’ research focussed on employee engagement in companies with a clear purpose and shows that these companies outperformed the market by 2-3% per year, over a 26-year period.
Dr. Victoria Hurth revealed initial insights from interviews she and her colleagues had undertaken with senior executives from 14 large companies who had begun their purpose journey; these included the belief that purpose helped to attract and retain staff. She observed that whilst some of the companies interviewed had made significant progress in their purpose journey, they all felt they were still near the beginning. She also noted that purpose was unanimously seen as something distinct from CSR.
Prof Helen Alford highlighted how CSR, instead of changing the way businesses behaved, had been absorbed into their existing ways of behaving and had in many cases been co-opted into PR departments. But, she continued, we should not write CSR off – CSR is one of levers that could change the world with the right fulcrum; the wisdom traditions and a move towards sustainability may be this fulcrum.
Below is a short video with highlights from our panel discussion.
Academic Conference: ‘Organisations with Purpose’
Blueprint and London Business School Leadership Institute co-hosted a major interdisciplinary academic conference on ‘Organisations with Purpose’. This two day event brought together researchers and academics from the world’s top business schools including economists, neuroscientists and philosophers, to explore the latest evidence on how purpose influences business performance, and how businesses serve society. It also included philosophical papers which challenge and test commonly held assumptions about the human person and business purpose.
The event was specifically aimed at academics with around 50 in attendance from universities around the world. Professor David Grayson from Cranfield School of Management has agreed to write up the conference which we will make available on our website. The conference was incredibly well received by those attending and was described as being both ‘inspiring’ and ‘stimulating’.
The chair of the academic panel, Prof Rebecca Henderson of Harvard Business School said:
“This conference is an important milestone in the growing area of research into business purpose. The academic committee were delighted by the response to our call for papers, and we received over 75 submissions from across the world. Blueprint for Better Business’s focus on business practice was instrumental in the inclusion of several conceptual papers, which I think will make for a very rich and thoughtful dialogue – not only on what the latest empirical research tells us, but also as to the fruitfulness and validity of alternative ways of thinking about people and purpose.”