Shawn Parr: Is Your Business Working On Purpose?

Shawn Parr: Is Your Business Working On Purpose?

In order to create a successful business strategy in today's fast-paced market, having clear intentions is paramount.

Shawn Parr, Bulldog Drummond
  • 5 may 2013

When I misbehaved as a young lad, my mother was the one who almost always reprimanded me. After lecturing me on the rights and wrongs, she’d ask, “Did you do that on purpose, son?” and then hand out the punishment. My actions were almost always spontaneous episodes of teenage stupidity—not premeditated acts of dissent. While I was definitely a rebellious teenager, my mother’s inquisition always made me think about my actions, and to this day, “Are you doing that on purpose?” is a question I ask myself regularly about my impact on others.

Purpose And People Are The New Frontier

For most businesses today, the most valuable asset they manage is their people—and employee engagement and satisfaction is a strategic imperative that every leadership team should understand and explore proactively. People who turn up to work each day, and aren’t actively using their talents to pursue or connect to their purpose, don’t operate at their full potential. People who find their reason for being, who uncover their purpose and connect with it passionately, become more engaged and significantly more effective at work and in life because of a clear sense of fulfillment. Helping your employees discover and define their purpose represents a significant opportunity to improve “people” engagement and therefore overall corporate performance.

Companies that find their purpose are no different when they define or rediscover their reason for being. Working closely with executive teams at large corporations to reposition and refresh their brands, I encounter many who ask for our guidance and help to explore and define their purpose in the world. On the surface this sounds like vision and mission work, but when examined, it becomes deep strategic work that has the potential to impact every facet of a business. The opportunity to do business around purpose is one of the new frontiers for driving significant and meaningful change both inside and outside of a company.

How Is Purpose Different From Vision?

There has been a lot written around purpose, the role we play in the world, the reason we exist as individuals and the need for our lives to have meaning. Finding purpose is the central question we all seek to answer at a key point in our lives (whether we know it or not) and thanks to authors like Simon Sinek and Rick Warren (and of course my mother) there are tools that can help us find the answer. Like people who are trying to find their way, companies who are seeking to reinvigorate their business and find a relevant and compelling position for themselves must step back and answer the central question of why they exist in the world. Oftentimes executive teams try to answer this question by laying out a vision statement around how they see the future.

A vision statement for many is aspirational; it’s a description of what the company wants to achieve, and is not intended to be literal. Sadly the result is often not believable or totally unachievable. Whereas, a purpose statement clearly articulates the reason a company exists in the world, the role it plays (and the difference it makes) in people’s lives, offering a clear and accurate description of the core business.

Companies With A Greater Purpose 

A company must make money and add value to the community it exists to serve. But this is merely operating as a viable entity. Existing to make money does not unlock the potential contained in the power of a clear purpose. It feels like just yesterday when purpose-committed companies like Patagonia and Newman’s Own were few and far between. But today successful new companies like Warby Parker, FEED, MiiR, Cleanwell, The Honest Kitchen, Raven + Lily, Sseko Designs, Project 7 and The Paradigm Project are among the many social enterprises that were founded with a clear purpose in mind, and are sprouting up in almost every business category, challenging the current ways of doing business and offering consumers the ability to make a broader impact through the products they purchase.

Southwest Flies (And Profits) On Purpose 

Purpose is not the exclusive territory of socially conscious startups. Southwest Airlines was built on making flying and travel accessible to more Americans. And forty years later, their reason for being is still expressed and executed strategically across every facet of their business. “Freedom to Fly” can be experienced by customers in three simple areas: low fares, lots of flights, and the friendliest service in the sky. They give their employees the freedom to keep fares low in every city they serve, and they are low by philosophy, not expediency. They provide the best customer service in the airline industry – and call it Positively Outrageous Service. Their reason for being (their purpose) is expressed in every functional area of their business, and the difference shows in the customer experience as well as in their financial performance. They have enjoyed forty consecutive years of profits, which is unheard of in the domestic airline industry.

We’re seeing the search to clarify purpose as a growing trend among the international companies we work with, as their executives seek to understand how to play a more meaningful role in the world and improve their overall business performance. So if you sit in the C-Suite of any major corporation today, don’t run past the question of purpose as a serious opportunity to impact your business and the people who work for you.

The Benefits And Effects Of Your People Doing Their Work On Purpose

When your company has a clear purpose, you plan with that connected purpose, mapping your strategy clearly to your reason for existing as a business and the role you play in the world. When objectives have a purpose, everyone on the team is on the same page and understands what to do and why they are doing it. If you define your purpose, plan with it in mind, and measure your actions and performance against it accordingly, you increase engagement, inspire performance and do your most rewarding and satisfying work.  And, if in doubt, always remember what my mother said, “Are you doing that on purpose?”

Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego. Clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.

Image via UMF2011 on Flickr


Modular System Lets Musicians Create Their Own MIDI Controllers

Arts & Culture
Retail Today

Commerce Expert: Why Brick-And-Mortar Shopping Can’t Be Replaced

Erin Armendinger, SVP of bio, explains the physical need of customers to experience certain products before buying

Travel Today

Bicycle Hotel In Norway Makes Commuting A Breeze

The energy efficient space was designed to help the city of Lillestrøm get closer to their environmental goals by encouraging people to ride their bike


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Retail 2017

See All
Fashion Today

Basquiat-Inspired Fashion Line Supports Emerging Talent

The late artist's estate has collaborated with New York label alice+olivia on a new range of designs

Health Today

Fidgeting Tools Designed To Help Creative Minds Focus

The DIDGETS Collection helps those who have anxiety or are restlessly moving to focus while they are working

Related Expert

Jennifer Kinon

Designer & Educator

Technology Today

Helpful Robot Teaches People Of All Ages How To Code

The Root has coding expertise designed to benefit a wide range of people

Home Today

Sharing Service Connects Directors With Film Locations

Finding affordable places to film can be difficult, so GETset was designed to help creators easily find good locations

Technology Today

Adobe Is Teaching Machines To Copy Your Artistic Style

A new research project called Stylit uses a camera to mimic a drawing and reproduce the strokes digitally


Future Of Retail 2017
Transformation Strategies For Customer-First Business

PSFK Op-Ed Today

Why Personalization Is The Key To Customer Satisfaction

Andrew Blackmon of The Black Tux shares how the company is using machine-learning models to streamline the fitting process

PSFK Labs december 1, 2016

Retail Spotlight: Home Depot Reimagines How Employees Conduct Tasks

The home improvement retailer puts the customer first by initiating local fulfillment centers and simplifying freight-to-shelf inventory management

Automotive Yesterday

Mercedes Reveals Dazzle-Free LED Headlights

Digital Light offers great precision with a resolution of over two million pixels

Cities Yesterday

Nissan Is Testing A Digital Car Sharing Program In Europe

Nissan plans to launch their new service in Paris sometime this year to trial the profile-matching service

Social Media Yesterday

Your Favorite Tweets Are Now Wearable

This temporary tattoo allows fans to wear their most favorite moments from the social platform

Health Yesterday

This Mirror Tracks Your Dark Circles And Fine Lines

HiMirror is a device snaps a photo of your face every day to provide feedback on how to care for your skin


Conference Built Around Report Launch

Innovation Yesterday

Creative Director: Navigating The New World Of Founder-Brands

Richard Smith, Creative Director at Sullivan, explains how visionaries like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg approach their branding and why it’s important to apply brand thinking to founders’ products

Syndicated Yesterday

Madrid's 'Robin Hood' Cafe Charge The Rich To Feed The Poor

The charity restaurant makes money from customers by day to offer homeless people meals at night

USA Yesterday

Amazon Launches Cashier-Free Store For Ultimate Efficiency

The retailer is looking to make shopping even faster by letting customers instantly pay as they walk out the door

No search results found.