Legal development

Why unlocking your business purpose is the key to growth

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    As the world emerges like mole in Wind in the Willows from our forced periods of isolation and possibly contemplation, the lights of the headlines screaming "war for talent" and the "big resignation" are an assault on the senses. Organisations around the world seem to be scrambling to do all they can to lure and in some cases bribe their people to stay with them. The importance of respecting your people and paying them fairly shouldn't be understated but the greatest need for focus must surely be the pursuit of meaning and experience of belonging, true collaboration and purpose. We are hardwired to crave purpose in our personal and professional lives. We want to feel like we’re contributing to something that has meaning, an intrinsic need that has been brought into clearer focus by the global pandemic. 

    A considered business purpose has multiple benefits. It helps our clients view us distinctively – to understand what guides us and what sets us apart. Explicitly capturing what sits at your core, fueling energy and inspiration in your organization, enables you to deliberately tap into this, value it's elements, protect and grow them. This provides a ballast of core strength that supports an organization keep adapting to the continuously changing world around us, unifying and energising our people across desks and geographical borders. 

    But what does unlocking our organisational purpose entail? And how can we get it right? At Ashurst, we’ve spent several months co-creating our firm’s purpose across our firm and with our clients. We started with a wide net, crowd sourcing inputs initially through a range of large group virtual "jams", a virtual Purpose Room that collected artefacts of our thinking as it evolved, drawing people into it to both gather inspiration and refine further, funneling this through to sessions designed for ideation and reflection to sharpen our focus on the most important elements. The strongest themes we identified centered clearly on our genuine desire to deliver through collaboration, authenticity and our strong entrepreneurial spirit.  

    This is what we’ve learned along the way.  

    If you want your purpose to resonate, it needs to emerge from these people

    Your purpose is your why – your reason for existing and your decision-making compass. But it’s not all about you. It’s about how you can impact the people and environments around you. In the process of developing Ashurst’s purpose, we didn’t just ask, Why? we asked, Why us?

    • What impact does our firm have on society?
    • How are we different to other firms?
    • Who are we important to and what do they expect of us?
    • How can we articulate all this in a way that truly resonates?

    We put ourselves in the shoes of our clients and analysed their needs and wants. We also carefully considered our contribution to broader issues including how we can deliver on ESG and other important objectives that impact the communities in which we operate . As a global business, we recognise that we have a powerful role to play in this space. 

    Purpose isn’t just something you find and articulate, it’s something you practice every day

    In a 2020 discussion paper, the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK stated that, “The purpose of a firm sits at the heart of its business model, strategy and culture and should play a fundamental role in reducing potential harm to consumers and markets.”

    Clearly articulating your purpose is only the start. You then need to configure your objectives, business model and operating systems to ensure they’re aligned. It’s also vital that people working at all levels of your organisation have a shared understanding of what your purpose is and act in alignment with it. If clients or staff perceive your purpose to be disingenuous, it can do more harm than good. 

    Your purpose will likely draw a line in the sand on issues that are central to the way you work and perhaps also the clients you choose to work with. At the same time, being bold with your purpose could help carve out a beneficial niche, helping build your ideal client portfolio. 

    We share our experiences to date here because of our belief in the importance of building organisations that create real value for their people, their clients and communities that they are part of. We have worked hard to capture what sits at the heart of this value for our firm. We acknowledge that the real work now begins – living up to and into this purpose everyday in everything that we do. This is now our focus and the lens we are applying to all that we do.   

    Purpose both anchors to what's important about your history and sets the expectation for the future 

    We have chosen a purpose statement that will be agile enough to be relevant in a rapidly changing world and it's value comes from being a foil for ambitious strategy so that as we drive change we keep an anchor to the very core part of us that drives greatest energy, distinctiveness and commitment rather than losing sight of what we are all here for. This agility is important as your Purpose needs to be enduring.

    Looking through new challenges and opportunities through the lens of your Purpose can be challenging and drive you to go further than you perhaps might of ordinarily. ESG is a good example of this for us. It is important to look to create this tension through your Purpose – something you continuously need to push to preserve as well as live up to.  If this is our why/what we stand for then where does that mean we need to stand on this issue? Perhaps this illustrates the importance to focus externally as well as internally – what is the value we create?

    Your purpose reflects your company values as well as the world’s needs. While your values may stay the same, the world around you won’t. Your purpose can’t be a case of ‘set and forget’, it needs to be capable of adaptation and evolution to align with and support the changing landscape in people, client and community expectations. 

    For example, 20 years ago sustainability wasn’t a core focus for corporates. As we’ve learned more about the impact of global warming, many companies have developed a purpose that centres around creating a more sustainable world. 

    Complacency is the enemy of growth. We need to accelerate the systemic shifts that are needed in our company, our industry and the broader environment. A relevant and meaningful purpose is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a modern-day necessity. 

    There’s certainly a lot of talk about purpose these days and we're excited by the shift. Figuring out your company’s purpose can be a challenging yet rewarding process. It adds gravitas to your objectives, helps differentiate your business, and unifies your team members by handing them a guiding compass. As we emerge out of the storm of 2020/2021, that’s exactly what we need to stimulate renewal and growth in the bright light of an opening up world. 

    Authors: Jamie Ng, Partner and  Andrea Bell, Chief People Officer.

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