By: Orvin T. Kimbrough, Chairman & CEO at Midwest BankCentre
Corporate purpose is often conflated with a company’s mission statement. While they’re similar in that they both offer a unifying framework by which a company operates, corporate purpose goes deeper than its more surface-level counterpart. For me and my team at Midwest BankCentre, corporate purpose sits at the core of our value space and our customer-centric strategy, and it provides clarity when it’s seemingly missing — it’s our North Star. Ultimately, corporate purpose is about tapping into and unleashing the soul power of a company.
1. Corporate Purpose Must Start at the Top
When corporate purpose starts at the top of the organization, it has a way of disseminating throughout your organization and into the communities we serve. Corporate purpose helps us cut through the clutter of the noise and distractions that exist within any corporate setting.
Key findings from a recent survey conducted by Harvard Business Review (HBR) Analytic Services show that 56% of respondents prioritize corporate purpose as a way to contribute positively to society. As a result of focusing on making meaningful contributions to the world, companies witness enhanced employee engagement (47%), employee retention (44%), community engagement (43%), and favorable customer reviews (42%).
But while corporate purpose provides the framework by which a company operates, it’s largely meaningless unless it starts with executive leadership. This is borne out in the survey results that show effective corporate purpose starts at the top (84%) and is then communicated to stakeholders (82%).
2. Occupy Your Space to Promote Equity
I often talk about the necessity of understanding what lane you’re in and occupying that space. While I think it’s absolutely critical for corporate leaders to use their platform to speak up, there’s a caveat. Corporate leaders must first demonstrate that they’re working within the context of their companies to promote racial justice and equity within hiring, promotions, supplier programs, governing boards — and then use their voice to amplify and advocate for broader equality and social justice.
When we think about our purpose at Midwest BankCentre, it starts with marginalized communities. Those who society typically thinks about last, but who also represent the lion’s share of society. They are everyday people who want a fair shot, and they often look like the people who we employ at the bank.
A well-rounded, purpose-driven strategy for us includes how we think about hiring and promoting talent, the vendors we work with and, perhaps most importantly, the issuance of credit in a fair and transparent way. This is the way we understand our lane and occupy our space to promote equity and shared prosperity. That’s the only way forward. You have to first do the work in your house before you can start talking about what’s going on outside. As a country, from a corporate standpoint, we’ve not yet done enough of that work inside our homes.
It’s disingenuous to talk about things you’re not really serious about. As a nation, we can see things like what happened to George Floyd and it can jar us into making statements that lack substance or commitment to be sustained. Purpose-driven companies should always be on the side of doing what’s right.
3. Purpose and Profit Go Hand-in-Hand
Purpose and profits are the only sustainable path forward for any enterprise over the long term. These two ideas tethered together are an incredible force for attracting passionate, mission-minded, and achievement-oriented people.
The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services study, which was conducted in the second half of 2020 and included more than 160 respondents from companies of all sizes, revealed that last year’s important events — the COVID-19 pandemic and movements for racial equality — spotlighted opportunities for companies to both showcase and improve efforts around corporate purpose. As difficult as 2020 was, it undoubtedly laid the foundation for fundamental changes in workplace culture and employee engagement.
The pandemic forced employers to focus on employee health and safety (89%), collaborate with governments (48%), and increase charitable giving (43%), while the racial justice movement pushed companies to elevate diversity and inclusion programs, implement racial justice trainings, and place an added focus on calls for racial justice from corporate leaders.
At Midwest BankCentre, we thrive when our colleagues feel like they’re doing meaningful work. As a result of that work, we’re able to help Main Street literally put food on the table. Our reward for understanding this purposeful dance is we, ourselves, are able to eat. Purpose is primitive, and in this context, it strikes at the heart of why a company was created in the first place.
Most companies were created beyond the goal of simply making money — money is the byproduct — they were created to solve a problem. A clearly-defined corporate purpose is soulful and leads to more creativity, more societal impact, and more value for customers, employees, and shareholders. Purpose-driven companies are proven to outperform their peers over time.
Get more insight by downloading the guidebook, How Corporate Social Responsibility Leads for Impact in Times of Crisis. Hear more from Orvin Kimbrough on this topic by watching the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services-led webinar, Corporate Purpose in an Age of Crises.
About the Author
Orvin Kimbrough, a product of the St. Louis Public Schools and the State of Missouri foster care system, serves as Chairman and CEO of Midwest BankCentre. He also serves as an adjunct instructor at Washington University in St. Louis, teaching effective team leadership. Before joining Midwest BankCentre, Orv worked with a number of nonprofits, including serving as the President and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis, one of the top United Way affiliates in the world. Orv brings a passion for helping people to everything he does.