What is purpose?

At the heart of Blueprint is the assertion that business should be guided and inspired by a purpose that benefits society and respects people.​

It is easy to have a debate about what you do but the bigger debate is to ask why you are doing it? What is the purpose of your efforts?

Purpose is an enduring reason for the business to exist beyond just making a profit: a purpose that benefits society and respects people, with profit as one outcome. A business needs to make a profit otherwise it cannot survive – but making a profit is not its purpose.

What is a purpose-led business?

A purpose-led business: 

  • Has a purpose which serves society – it envisages a positive impact on the world which shapes its thinking and drives decision making so there is a clear, simple and credible narrative which links the purpose to the strategy and to the outcomes and impact that arise from that strategy (both financial and non financial).
  • Has a way of thinking about people which sees the business as a set of relationships and understands that the long term success of the business depends on the quality and sustainability of these relationships – with its employees, customers, suppliers, society and its responsibilities to act as a guardian for future generations.
  • Creates the conditions where each person is seen as a someone not as something, respects the dignity and value of people, and seeks to have a positive impact on the lives of those it touches.

What does a good purpose look like?

A good purpose is not about crafting a catchy statement. Purpose is why the business exists; it should set out clearly how society benefits from the company’s existence, in a way that is inspiring, authentic and above all practical:

Inspiring

  • Inspire people both within and outside the business
  • Reinforce the connection between the business and what it contributes to wider society

    Practical

    • Provide the strategic direction for the business
    • Enable people to make decisions about what they do, using the purpose as a reference point

    Authentic

    • Connect what the business believes, says and what it actually does
    • Enable scrutiny of the alignment between the stated and actual purpose

    The power of purpose

    Purpose is the glue that inspires all of the people on which the business depends to succeed: its employees, customers, suppliers, the communities in which it operates, its investors and the future generations affected by what it does. The power of purpose is to move people to commit to a shared worthwhile endeavour, unlocking their potential to create greater value for both the business and society. 

    Research on human motivation shows that human beings seek meaning through their work, and are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. This is supported by a growing body of evidence which shows that purpose-led businesses deliver better long-term performance and are better able to attract, motivate and retain talent. 

    This goes beyond employees: consumers are increasingly looking to businesses to provide products that respect the environment, pay their taxes, treat their people fairly, take responsibility for their supply chains and be honest with their customers.

    Respect for the dignity and value of people

    Fundamentally, purpose depends on whether the people in the organization respect and care about the people affected by what the organisation does. This is evident in the quality of the company’s relationships. A purpose-led business is conscious and intentional about the potential and the well-being of all of the people affected by the business in a manner that produces profitable outcomes, a better society and a healthy planet.

    Explore more

    How do you define purpose?

    Blueprint’s Framework outlines how purpose should be defined and the behaviours needed to achieve it.

    What does a purpose-led company look like?

    Blueprint’s Five Principles offer a picture of what a purpose-led organisation might look like.

    How does Blueprint work with business?

    Our work is about stimulating and energising a different way of thinking and behaving in business. We work with businesses and those who influence them.​

    Start your business's purpose journey

    To facilitate the practical application of Blueprint – how do I use it? – we have developed an illustrative journey that can help companies understand what might be involved.

    we must breathe to live but breathing is not the purpose of life. The purpose of a corporation is to produce goods and services to meet economic and social needs, to create satisfying and rewarding employment, to earn returns for its shareholders and other investors, and to make a positive contribution to the social and physical environment in which it operates

    John Kay Economist

    Further reading