Purpose Under Pressure: How Breakthrough Leaders Drive Results

On a good day, most well-intended organizations strive to be a top-choice employer, create deep relationships with customers, and drive rapid sustainable growth. The challenge is that pressure from outside investors or shareholders often pulls leaders in the opposite direction. The leadership team may want to focus on the long game, but the urgency of quarterly capitalism shifts the leaders’ attention to short-term activities that can actually erode long-term value.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The research tells us that organizations who align themselves toward a customer-driven purpose can drive long-term growth without sacrificing short-term wins.

Looking beyond the quarterly numbers toward a larger purpose – like reinventing an industry or providing customers with a revolutionary experience – is a more sustainable growth strategy than simply chasing numbers. Leaders who do this during the early days of a firm drive more emotional engagement, competitive differentiation, and ultimately, revenue generation than those who over-index on quarterly earnings.

Below are three things these purpose-driven leaders do differently, coupled with real-life examples from three exemplars, who used this strategy to drive outsized results:

  1. They recognize that top talent wants more than money

Top talent has a choice about where they want to work, even more so in a remote environment. To attract an A team who can deliver results, leaders need to demonstrate that their company is more than just a transactional organization, where people trade time for money. Sustainable success hinges upon creating what we’ve come to refer to as “a Tribe of True Believers.” These are the employees who care deeply and go far beyond merely ‘checking the box’ for a paycheck.

Hubert Joly, the former CEO of Best Buy who drove Best Buy’s much-heralded turnaround described this crucial employee engagement strategy during our recent Linkedin Live conversation saying, “A company is a human organization made of individuals, working together in the pursuit of a noble goal. Not this money-making machine. Of course, profit is imperative…but profit is better as an outcome, not the ultimate goal. You start with people, then customers, then financial results.  If you flip it, you’ll spend your entire meeting on finance. At Best Buy, an anchoring purpose gave us an opportunity to unleash the human magic.”

Joly understood early on that the caliber and engagement of talent are predictors of financial results. He knew that while top talent wants to make money, they also want to do meaningful work that makes a difference.

  1. They go beyond customer satisfaction; they champion customer impact 

Caring about the customer experience is a good start, but if a business is not actively improving their customers’ lives and businesses, the company will never win the market or create meaningful differentiation.

For example, Marc Benioff’s vision for CRM software transformed an entire industry because Salesforce went beyond merely pleasing customers. Instead of simply giving customers what they were asking for, Salesforce focused on improving customers in ways they didn’t even know were possible.  Benioff and his team scaled the organization by uniting tens of thousands of people around the potential impact they could have on customers, and ultimately the industry as a whole.

In his book, Trailblazer, Benioff writes, “I believe we’re entering a new age in which customers will increasingly expect miracles from you. If you don’t value putting the customer at the center of everything you do, then you are going to fall behind. Whether you make cars, solar panels, television programs, or anything else, untold opportunities exist. Every company should invest in helping its customers find new destinations, and in blazing new trails to reach them. To do so, we have to resist the urge to make quick, marginal improvements and spend more time listening deeply to what customers really want, even if they’re not fully aware of it yet.”

Benioff built an organization that grew rapidly, making billions of dollars a year, and was recently ranked as the #1 CRM for the 9th consecutive year. Salesforce scaled rapid sustainable growth by going beyond standard customer satisfaction measures and instead, focusing on lasting customer impact.

  1. They know that ‘purpose’ is more than the words 

Purpose is a hot topic; organizations know they need a reason for being beyond money. Yet far too often, leaders spend months (and a lot of money) crafting the perfect purpose statement, only to move on with business as usual once the statement is launched. While an eloquent purpose statement is a good starting point, if it fails to mean anything to anyone, it’s only a matter of time before it loses its steam.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft recognized that even successful firms need to continually calibrate. In his book, Hit Refresh, Nadella writes, “Every person, organization, and even society reaches a point at which they owe it to themselves to hit refresh—to reenergize, renew, reframe, and rethink their purpose.”

Nadella knew that without consistent revival, purpose becomes nothing more than nice copy on a website. To yield proven economic, engagement, and competitive benefits, the organization’s purpose must be at the center of daily business. That can’t happen when the entire organization is focused on quarterly earnings alone.

These three exemplar leaders unleashed the full power of purpose, deeply embedding it into the center of their commercial models.  They looked beyond quarterly targets, and instead, they drove scalable, sustainable growth in pursuit of something bigger than themselves. While their outsized results speak for themselves, the model they used is something any leader can emulate, whether in a startup, a turnaround, or an existing firm.

If you want to achieve sustainable growth, resist the pressure to over-index on short-term financial performance. Instead, unleash the human magic, go beyond customer satisfaction to drive customer impact, and continually recalibrate towards a bigger, bolder more noble.