On 15 September 2016, A Blueprint for Better Business convened a panel discussion to explore the link between purpose and performance.

The event was chaired by Andrew Hill (FT) and 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 who are on a purpose journey.

Alex Edmans discussed that although traditional thought is that pursuing purpose is at the expense of profit his large-scale, rigorous evidence suggests that purpose supports profit. The relationship is likely causation, not just correlation. Alex explained how his research into employee engagement in companies with a clear purpose shows that these companies outperformed the market by 2-3% per year, over a 26-year period from 1984-2008.

Ioannis Ioannou addressed how corporate purpose is associated with the ability of an organisation to establish and maintain a competitive advantage in the long run. He also discussed what the organisational structures and processes that reflect a genuine commitment to purpose are. Ioannis referenced his academic research undertaken in the field of corporate sustainability.

Dr Victoria Hurth presented preliminary insights from her recent interviews with 14 of Britain’s most successfully businesses including Vodafone, Pearson, and BT. This work, which Dr Hurth has been leading with Prof Jaideep Prabhu and Charles Ebert from Cambridge University, showed early indications of how a purpose-led approach can positively impact on stakeholder relations and retention, and improve the decision making process.

Professor Helen Alford discussed that whilst Corporate Responsibility (CR) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) have done great work in helping to solve some of the world’s problems the words have been hollowed out. “Instead of these words changing how businesses behave, businesses have absorbed it into their existing way of behaving”, terms like CSR and CR then become more associated with PR and communications than with changing business behaviours to serve society. Purpose, the wisdom traditions, and Blueprint can be used as a fulcrum to help levers such as CSR and CR to change the behaviours of the corporate world.

Click here to see the feature-length video of the event