Purpose and profit – how giving back helps organisations grow


Geoff McDonald, former senior VP of HR at Unilever, believes that all organisations must consider what their purpose is in order to fully connect with and benefit society, as well as achieve long-term success.

Businesses need to identify their purpose and leverage it throughout their organisation, in order to drive real cultural change. However, this should not be at the expense of the bottom line. Defining a purpose does not mean turning your back on profit and growth – these factors remain key to an organisation’s success and are, in fact, the result of a purposeful approach.

But what exactly does such an approach entail? It is one that takes into account where the organisation operates and considers the environmental and social impact of its activities.

World of Learning 2014

Geoff McDonald is delivering the opening address at the World of Learning conference.

30 September – 1 October 2014 Birmingham NEC.

Find out more

Nine out of 10 Unilever products involve using domestic water to make them effective: shampoos, detergents, soaps etc. If it wants to continue its success in the future then it needs to produce products that require customers to use less water.

Sustainable objectives

The company’s sustainable living goals include driving innovation, meeting customer needs, and enhancing employee morale, all of which there is a very clear business – as well as moral – case for.

Organisations must refine their objectives so that they remain relevant in the business climate of tomorrow. They need to take a good look at the environment around them and the future landscape in which they will be operating.

Consider this: by 2030, demand for energy and food will increase by 50% and demand for fresh water will increase by 30%. By 2050, it is predicted the world’s population will rise from 7 to 9 billion people.

A purposeful approach takes into account these world challenges and distils them down to strategic actions within an organisation. However, for many businesses – particularly one as large as Unilever, with 170,000 employees around the world – this can be a challenge.

Communicating with employees

Effective leaders can help drive change and create a purposeful approach through their knowledge of the business and their links with employees. These leaders need to be systematic thinkers who are authentic in their message and not driven by ego. They need to be results-orientated, resourceful and able to collaborate and partner up with others effectively. They also need to be sensitive to the wellbeing of their employees.

It is essential to engage staff with the purpose of the organisation internally as well as externally. Leaders should work with their teams to drive enthusiasm for the company’s approach, helping it to resonate throughout the organisation.

In many ways, a purposeful approach to “giving back” is one that many employees can easily connect with –  we all want to make a difference and improve the world for future generations. It will help employees play their part in making a positive change and leave their mark.

Employees can play a major role in driving forward a purposeful approach within an organisation, but this can only happen if the infrastructure is already in place. The correct systems and processes need to exist to support the overall purpose.

Furthermore, an organisation’s purpose needs to be re-evaluated at frequent intervals – does it still fit the culture and offering of the organisation? Is it still relevant to the current and future environment?

Big businesses cannot afford to turn their back on society if they want to continue to grow and remain profitable. Organisations not only have a responsibility to help the world meet the challenges of climate change, a growing population and dwindling resources, but their consumers will expect them to do so.

Geoff McDonald

About Geoff McDonald

Geoff McDonald is a former senior VP of HR at Unilever.
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