on-a-mission

The Government’s mission-led business review started out with a narrow definition of a ‘mission-led business’ as a subset of mainstream business.  What is very exciting from the report published today, is to see how their own consultation led to a broadening of the agenda, ending up with a healthy recognition that there is an emergent mission-led business movement occurring across the UK, and of businesses of all sizes.

The report notes the increasingly important role of business generally in addressing social and environmental challenges in the 21st century. It very helpfully recognises both the crucial importance of government, and at the same time the inherent limitations of law and regulation. It rightly calls for government, private sector and civil society to work together in a focussed effort to promote a lasting change in mainstream business culture. Government needs to encourage the work that many companies are doing as well as highlighting unacceptable practices. We need to shift the default so businesses see profit as the outcome of living out a purpose that serves society, rather than the sole aim. Advancing this change in expectations is one that mainstream business can and must lead. We have found that major companies  seek out Blueprint voluntarily to be a mirror from society to help catalyse their moves towards putting social goals at the heart of their way of working and thinking. Such leadership from within business needs to be encouraged.

A number of the key recommendations made in the report flag up what can be achieved without any legal or regulatory change. The paper recommends that the government “promote the flexibility offered under English law for companies to act with a social purpose and align shareholder and stakeholder interests.”  If the mission-led movement is going to gain real traction within the biggest companies of our economies, then the legal ability for organisations to act with a social purpose needs to be highlighted and encouraged.

Another important area is to continue to promote the mounting evidence demonstrating not simply that there is no necessary trade-off between purpose and performance, but that a strongly embedded purpose in a well-run business aligns with long term sustainable performance.

Pointing to work conducted by Blueprint, including  the recent major academic conference we organised recently on organisations with purpose  in association with London Business School, the review highlights the role Business schools need to play in advancing this agenda.  The report rightly recommends thinking about how and whether this ethos is being taught within management education. Another recommendation is that “Starting with business schools, educators to lead the way in analysing the impact on business of having a purpose that serves society, and embedding this into curricula.

We are keen to play our part in collaboration with others to help develop and promote a richer vision of the character formation that business education requires if the necessary change in mindset and approach is to become a normal part of the formation of our future business leaders.

The release of this report is a great indicator of the pace at which the purpose agenda is gaining traction in the UK. I hope it will help galvanise and strengthen many excellent initiatives which are already underway, in service of a renewal of business life rooted in human values. We were delighted to have been involved in the report’s formation through our senior advisers Julia Rebholz and Loughlin Hickey (who was a member of the advisory panel).  We look forward to helping take forward this vital agenda.

Charles Wookey, CEO
A Blueprint for Better Business