How to lead with purpose to harness the power of transformation

Trust in Transformation

The need to address urgent issues such as Covid-19, social inequality and climate change has made the importance of having a purpose clearer than ever. André Abreu, CEO of Alaya, talks about how to harness the power of purpose to solve problems and reap rich personal and business benefits in the process.

Why this growing need for purpose?

Purpose is all about Why. Why do we exist? Why do companies exist? It’s nothing new. The difference is that now, more and more stakeholders are aware of it. They expect organisations not just to focus on profit – not that there’s anything wrong with making a profit − but also to make a wider, more purposeful contribution. 

Furthermore, people across generations, but particularly young people, are expecting more and different things from employers. There are various reasons for this. First, with more access to information there has been an increase in transparency. This forces companies to be more accountable for their actions. Second, we’re confronted with a whole range of issue of unprecedented urgency. People see that with the world’s leading corporations being bigger than many governments, the private sector has the duty, potential and responsibility to take purposeful action.

How have people become more aware?

Last year has been a time of crisis and deep changes. It’s not just the pandemic. We’ve also seen many movements and political debates gather momentum, with people increasingly concerned about issues from to climate change. Above all, we’ve been experiencing a great deal of uncertainty. We humans don’t like uncertainty. Particularly at times like this, a purpose can guide us and help us navigate the uncertainty better. It helps mitigate stress. In a crisis, people – and companies – have tough decisions to make. Purpose gives them a framework for doing so. 

The urgent need to act and lead with purpose has intensified. But are people stepping up?

One thing that’s been striking in 2020 is the impressive levels of solidarity and the way people have been coming together to help others. The company I’m CEO of, Alaya, provides a platform for them to do so. Last year, despite the crisis and the physical distance between people,  e’ve seen everything from employees helping colleagues with their kids’ homework, to yoga classes and assistance with shopping. These activities are more at the level of individual purpose, but we’ve also been seeing purpose-driven initiatives at the corporate level. For instance, companies have been adapting what they do best to help others in need. An example that comes to mind is firms providing free consulting to the hospitality industry − and involving employees in their endeavours. These businesses are mastering the art of leading with purpose.

«Particularly at times like this, a purpose can guide us and help us navigate the uncertainty better.»

André Abreu CEO of Alaya
How can companies provide a framework for people to live their purpose?

This is precisely where the power of purpose lies – people living it. In my work I see the important role companies play in enabling them to do so − by giving people the means and time to get involved.

We’ve seen this happen in 2020, for example with remote working. If a company can provide a workplace driven by a purpose, it helps people make sense of an otherwise difficult situation. Having a common purpose unites them. Last year we’ve seen people using their employer’s purpose platforms to make contributions in so many different ways. Some have been volunteering online. Others have been donating money or goods. Some have been trying out new habits, for example a more sustainable lifestyle. Others still have been performing small acts of kindness, like doing the groceries for neighbours. At a time where we don’t see or have contact with others, the physical and mental wellbeing of many people has suffered. Simply having someone notice and show they care can make a big difference. 

What steps should companies undertake to lead with purpose? 

Companies looking to engage the power of purpose should offer a framework. But they should try to keep it open and voluntary. Purpose is so individual: what one person won’t  another. It’s good to give people a choice; not just a choice of causes, but a choice of means – for example the chance to donate money or goods, platforms for volunteering for small acts of kindness, or challenges designed to encourage and help people to change their own lifestyle. By creating an open framework, a company can really link people without limiting their options to express purpose in the best way for them.

What about the business benefits?

Having a framework of purpose is a good way of showing that you share sustainable values and are making an impact in all three dimensions: profit, people and the planet. There are also huge benefits in terms of employee engagement, your attractiveness as an employer and your ability to win and retain the right talent. McKinsey research during the pandemic has found that people who say they are ‘living their purpose’ at work report levels of wellbeing five times higher than those who say they aren’t. What’s more, those who are living their purpose are four times more likely to report higher engagement levels. (cf. McKinsey 2020)

A higher level of employee engagement translates into greater loyalty and productivity, plus who are proud and have a greater sense of belonging. It’s easy to see that this has the potential to ultimately also boost shareholder value.

We see successful investments in purpose at organisations of all sizes and in all industries. The key is persistence and sustainability. An investment in purpose doesn’t yield benefits overnight. The purpose has to become part of your culture and your employees’ DNA. Once this is achieved, the impact is permanent, because people have changed, citizens have changed.

«Having a framework of purpose is a good way of showing that you share sustainable values and are making an impact in all three dimensions: profit, people and the planet.»

André Abreu CEO of Alaya
How do we lead with purpose into the future?

For individuals, the process of defining and living a purpose might start with asking what sort of life you want to be able to look back on. Do you want to leave a legacy, the feeling of having made a difference for people? Then you can reflect on what you like to do, and where the world needs help. Can you inspire or teach someone? Can you change yourself? That’s when the real work starts. Having thought about your purpose, you then need to act.

The process for companies is exactly the same as for individuals: Start by defining your core purpose and framework. Then set concrete goals for the year. After that you can draw up an action plan, for example campaigns for the whole organisation and different offices. Try and involve the right people and teams, for example, CSR, HR or internal communications, and get champions from all parts of the company on board. If you do these things right, you’ll make great things happen.

It also needs to be accessible and actionable for everyone. A platform enables you to include and coordinate people and report on what you’re doing. Remember it’s okay to start very small and simple and then slowly expand the options, provided you stay true to your framework. Take a few actions, get feedback, and then adapt. Gradually you can make your programme more ambitious to get your people working with even greater purpose for the benefit of profit, people and the planet.

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André Abreu, CEO and Co-Founder of Alaya

About the author

André Abreu, CEO and Co-Founder of Alaya

My recipe for happiness in three sentences: 
1) Care for others more than you care for yourself.
2) Do your best in everything you do.
3) Try to find your purpose in life and live it to the fullest.

Transformation succeeds … 
when you are able to inspire people, get them on board and then let them shape the transformation.

2021 will be better because …
we have faced such trials in 2020 that we will enter 2021 more prepared, better people, more united and ready to take on what the world presents to us.

About Alaya

The Alaya platform empowers companies to build a purpose-driven culture and engage employees to make an impact, one act at a time. We enable experiences that bring out the human side of work, so that companies and their employees can do good and measure their actions every day. By volunteering, giving, or taking simple actions such as biking to work, saving energy, or committing to a healthier lifestyle, your employees are able to participate in your organisation’s efforts to activate your purpose.


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