Purpose Is Not The Same As CSR And Mission

Tuesday 31 July 2018
New research from CMI shows managers need to distinguish between purpose, CSR and company mission
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What makes purpose special, and why should you care?

The Chartered Management Institute’s latest ground-breaking research takes away the mystery and confusion.

The What, The Why And The How Of Purpose: A guide for leaders report identifies purpose as the factor motivating the growth of businesses.

We discussed how to define your business purpose. Here’s how purpose compares to other management theories related to business ethics.

Purpose Versus CSR

Although definitions of CSR can vary widely, many businesses follow the The World Business Council for Sustainable Development standard , namely, the “continuing commitment to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

In practice, CMI research reveals business professionals separate purpose from the concept of CSR, with the latter deemed to be a “superfluous, ancillary activity.” The CMI’s chief executive Ann Francke has said: “CSR is, 'tick this box over here.' It has nothing whatsoever to do with the core of business.”

Contrastingly, organisational purpose is a core and enduring motivation at the heart of a company. Focusing on maximising a company’s positive interactions with the world, Vodafone’s group director of corporate affairs Matt Peacock says a purpose-driven company aligns its “core business strategy with its ability to have the maximum social impact in specific targeted areas.”

Purpose Versus Sustainability

In the CMI’s study, purpose-advocating executives reported a strong overlap between sustainability and purpose. Many view purpose as a facilitator for achieving a sustainable society.

Whether focused on financial, social, political or environmental sustainability, both concepts prompt organisations to consider their objectives over the long-term future. Geoff McDonald, former global vice president of human resources, Unilever, explained: “If you use the word sustainability in its broadest sense, of helping to address social and environmental issues in the world, you can use that as the vehicle to live your purpose.”

Purpose Versus Mission And Values

Purpose is the fundamental motivation for a company. It reflects its vision of the future and shapes its mission to make it a reality, the CMI study found.

“Your purpose is your why. Your vision is what the world looks like when you’ve made it. And the mission is how you are going to get from where you are today to the vision,” explained Meaghan Ramsey, partner at Brunswick.

The growth of tech firm Google has hinged on the purpose of co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to “preserve history and make it available to everyone.” The vision of the business is to allow users to be just a click away from learning about any subject. The mission is to make the world's information universally accessible and useful.

Adopt a purpose and you’ll have positive values too. Purpose at an organisational level encourages qualities such as helping others and acting in a responsible way. The CMI report shows values reinforce the ‘meaningfulness of the purpose and the way in which the purpose is pursued’.