Outrage at inequality has always been there. But while in the 1930s it took more than 20 years before an employer was condemned because the so-called 'radium girls' had to work with radioactive material without protection, today things are slightly different. One week was all it took for Ikea to end its collaboration with PostNL after one report on poor working conditions. Three weeks, that was the time that elapsed between the invasion of Ukraine and the suspension of business activities in Russia for more than 600 top companies.
More and more top companies, and their top management, are consciously choosing an approach that combines achieving a result with guarding a moral, social or ecological standard. More and more employees also ask for this and actively choose organisations that put this into practice.
Wageningen University talks about sustainable idealism here, Willem Schramade talks about sustainable capitalism in this context, behavioural economics talks about profit efficiency (rather than cost efficiency) and both MIT and Harvard Business school talk about the balance between Purpose, Profit and Performance. Based on all this, we at StreetwiZe chose Purpose and Performance. The names differ, the ideas are identical.
Primo: contemporary entrepreneurship starts from the conviction that it is best for organisations to serve not only shareholders but also stakeholders in the broadest sense. It is therefore no longer only about the demand of the direct customer but about the needs of various stakeholders.
Secundo: we are all, from ceo to worker, members of the same ecosystem. Organisations would therefore do well to also pursue a purpose that protects or enhances this ecosystem. This is purpose, a standard that transcends the operational organisational goal and serves as a touchstone for decision-making.
And tertio: as a result, organisations enjoy a sustainable advantage provided they establish a healthy performance culture.
And despite all the Flemish modesty instilled in us, I dare say here today that with StreetwiZe we have got this right.
For the past 15 years within Mobileschool.org, we have considered everyone as stakeholders, from a street kid to a manager, and provided them with the best product or service that addresses their real needs.
Why? Because we believe everyone has the right to develop their individual talents, regardless of the context in which they exist. Moreover, we have worked hard to create a performance structure that makes this possible.
And no, all this is not just due to the exceptional intelligence and immeasurable talent that people like Arnoud and I share. 'Steal like an artist' is the title of one of my favourite books. So we did, because in the scientific literature we find in a purpose-driven, yet performing organisation, a positive answer to six questions.
The first question: is everyone in the organisation convinced that getting started with purpose is necessary? And, to put it in the words of my esteemed friend Prof Frederik Anseel when he talks about diversity, not because it is evidenced by a business case but because it is the right thing to do. In short, dare to touch the heart, the mind will follow.
Secondly, is there a clear definition, a choice, around what purpose is being worked on in an authentic way? It is the question of a stated mission, a description of what a company offers to whom with what effect inspired by their raison d'être, values and desired impact. An organisation will have to dare to make authentic choices here. You cannot be everything to everyone and Cal Newport said it all: focus is the new IQ.
A third question is whether we succeed in what is described as person-organisation fit? When people notice a discrepancy between the words and deeds in their organisation, between image and identity, purpose will do more harm than good. Ensuring that employees can write their own story in the larger narrative, and dare to involve them, is essential.
Fourth, we ask the question of connection: does human contact act as a binding agent so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts? For instance, we very often talk about inclusion but already fail to include everyone during a meeting. Moreover, today, through Teams, Slack or Whatsapp, we often reduce connection to quantity. The courage to make qualitative connections with all stakeholders, that is what it is all about.
A fifth question is whether we are sufficiently results-oriented? Making progress is essential if we want to keep the change to more values-driven working alive. Unfortunately, in reality, the way we meet, present or tackle projects still has room for improvement. For instance, since Covid, our online meetings have become up to 30% longer. It is therefore a moral imperative within both for-profit and social profit organisations, to dare to question existing ways of working with a view to creating added value.
And finally, the question is whether we possess leadership that decisively and clearly shapes the pursuit of purpose and performance. Study after study confirms that leadership is not an either/or but an and/and story. An effective leader inspires confidence by showing self-leadership, sometimes just being there for the employee or people in his or her network.
But a strong leader also shows expertise in solving problems and proactively translates challenges into opportunities and change. Daring to work on agile leadership is therefore a final task.
In summary, purpose, like performance, is essential. But naively fulfilling it when the future of our organisations lies in change is not an option. Daring to inspire, making choices, creating commitment, connecting with all stakeholders, keeping the focus on progress and showing strong leadership is the only way forward. And let these six themes now 'purely coincidentally' constitute StreetwiZe's offering. And now I end my plea, for I fear that this inadvertently leads to a message of hope around Purpose and Performance after all. Besides, it's Jeremy Clarkson on TV.