Rosie Warin of Kin&Co says with more than half of workers saying their companies’ marketing does not reflect reality, firms put themselves at risk if they don’t make hard changes internally first

Purpose: we’ve all heard about the incredible impacts it can have; on employees, customers and bottom lines. But the more it’s become commonplace (you all heard the head of purpose role being announced on BBC Sitcom W1A right?), the more organisations are jumping on the bandwagon. They’re rushing to communicate their newfound purpose without really embedding it into their organisation. And as we show in our new report F***ing up purpose, this is having a detrimental impact on staff and customers alike.

Most organisations are making the same mistakes. They’re either coming up with a purpose in a boardroom without consulting their communities, or slapping their purpose all over their marketing without first truly engaging their people and making hard changes internally. And now they’re paying the price.

Research conducted by Populus on behalf of Kin&Co last month polled a representative sample of 1,000 UK workers. Almost half (42%) said their company does not act in line with its purpose and values. More than half (53%) said their company’s purpose marketing does not reflect reality.

This is a real problem, and it’s having a big impact on employee motivation and retention. Almost half of UK workers surveyed said this perceived hypocrisy makes them want to leave their company, and 68% said talking purpose but not living it would have a negative impact on their work; causing distrust in leaders and reduced productivity.

Having a purpose and not living it will actually hurt your business more than not having one at all

Not embedding purpose properly also alienates customers, because in this age of transparency employee problems leak out online, and into the press. Over a third of employees surveyed (34%) said they’d consider writing a negative review online. One example is the Etsy employee who started a petition against the company’s leaders for not living their purpose and values, which was signed by thousands of employees and then went viral. Or the Google employee who wrote an anti-diversity manifesto that was picked up pretty much everywhere. This stuff really does matter. In fact, 63% of consumers wouldn’t buy from a company that didn’t treat its employees well, according to our research.

And they’re not stupid either – only 25% believe purpose-based advertising they see from businesses. And crucially, 61% wouldn’t buy from a company they felt was hypocritical. In other words, having a purpose and not living it will actually hurt your business more than not having one at all.

In the age of transparency, problems leak out, as in the case of Google. (credit:

So how do you get it right?

The risks speak for themselves. But they only happen when purpose isn’t truly lived before it’s communicated externally. To see the benefits of purpose, you should consider the “find, live, communicate” model.

First you must find your purpose, through a consultation with all your employees to ensure it’s true and authentic. Involve your people in the process; let them tell stories, help them re-connect to their work.

You must make real changes to your systems, operations and culture to show you’re taking purpose seriously

Then once you’ve found it and articulated it, you must live it by ensuring hard and soft changes are made to embed it into your processes, systems, business strategy and, importantly, your culture.

Key principles to living purpose

1.  Measure, measure and measure again Like any other initiative, purpose should be given a clear owner, a plan, a set of targets, and a budget allocation. Culture change doesn’t happen organically.

2. This is about behaviour change Purpose is about connecting with employees emotionally, therefore requires a different approach than a business strategy cascade or an IT system roll-out. It requires an audience-first approach grounded in behaviour-change psychology.

3. Don’t expect people to own it overnight Of course you want all your employees to get on board and start owning the purpose themselves, but human psychology suggests that until they’re aware and understand it, then crucially really believe it’s true, they have no chance of owning it. You must make real changes to your systems, operations and culture to show you’re taking purpose seriously.

4. Tell stories This is where the role of sustainability really comes into its own – providing proof points, real-life stories and examples of your purpose in action, building that all-important emotional connection with employees. So much of embedding purpose into your culture revolves around story-telling.Then, and only when the live process is underway, do you start communicating your purpose externally.

Rosie Warin


Is it really worth the effort? A sure-fire way to make your employees, customers, partners love you? Of course it is. According to recent reports purpose-driven brands outperform the stock market by 206%. Plus, as our research shows, if done properly it’s proven to improve staff retention, morale and customer loyalty.

Take Ella’s Kitchen, the organic baby food maker. Its purpose and mission is built into everyone’s role from day one and every external campaign it runs involves employees first. Or our client Danone, which is creating a grassroots ambassador movement to help its business units become B Corps by 2020; helping employees practically connect the manifesto to their day-to-day roles. It pays to get purpose right.

Rosie Warin is CEO of Kin&Co, a global purpose and values consultancy that helps organisations be more successful inside and out.

Main photo: VectorKnight/Shutterstock, Inc


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