As millennial employees gear up to take over, we are seeing a systematic shift in business priorities.
Traditionally, the outlook of a business could be categorized as either for-profit or non-profit. But as millennial employees gear up to take over the workplace – the generation born between 1980 and 2000 will constitute an estimated 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020 – and the ranks of consumers alike, we are seeing a systematic shift in business priorities. Profit has to co-exist with a sense of purpose – a commitment to treat employees, the environment, and the world at large fairly.
The millennial generation places a lot of significance in working for the betterment of society, and they prize companies that are purpose-driven. And they don’t necessarily trust that businesses are doing their part. According to last year’s Deloitte Millennial Survey, 75 percent of all respondents believe that businesses could be doing more to develop society and its future leaders.
This means businesses need to adapt to change, or risk falling behind. More and more, customers favor companies that invest in people and ideas that help solve social and economic problems. This doesn’t necessarily mean that companies of the future will need to be philanthropic superheroes, it simply means that they will need to place an increased focus on mobilizing their people and resources to create shared value in what they do.
“Purpose can exist on a sliding scale,” says Simon Shaw, Creative Chief Officer at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, London, “from making the world a happier place to delivering against a fundamental human need.”
Take Facebook, for example. The fact that Mark Zuckerberg recently donated 99 percent of his shares to charity doesn’t have much to do with Facebook’s day-to-day operations, but it assures employees that they are working for someone who cares about the world, not just his own pockets. And it sends the same message to those who use and invest in Facebook.
There is no universal approach to becoming a purpose-driven organization. Most large companies express their identities to consumers through their marketing strategy – and that’s one way to build trust and show a sense of purpose. A brand’s image can and should create a clear, comprehensive, and authentic narrative between what a company is selling and how it fits into the world at large – in other words, not just what its business is, but how it does business.
A purpose-driven business must be more than just an image, however. It must treat its customers fairly, and it must respect the environment. Purpose-driven companies also have to put employees first and create a supportive and sustainable work culture.
For businesses, this means everything from addressing employee wellness and diversity to building environmentally friendly offices. It is no coincidence that the best places to work in 2015 are also companies that are doing exceptionally well financially.
Airbnb is a good example. In a recent talk with Fast Company, the company’s CEO Brian Chesky reaffirmed that his guests are looking for more than just a hotel-like experience – “You can’t automate hospitality,” he says. Even the Airbnb office in San Francisco is designed like a home. These things give companies a human touch. It proves that they’re listening.
The value a company can create by pursuing its purpose can turn it into much more than the sum of its parts. For startups, this means changing the way they look at their business plans; for big businesses, it means reorienting the way they see themselves.
“Companies and institutions have the opportunity to join a meaningful conversation around things that matter – to take their place in culture and demonstrate their responsibility to society,” explains Shaw.
For better or for worse, one thing is clear: this shift is for good.