A Purposeful New Year

January 09, 2020
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

The start of a new year always presents an opportunity for reflection, re-evaluation and goal setting.

This new year, I’d like to challenge you to evaluate yourself in a way you may not have thought of as you look toward your future and your goals.

I’d like you to ask yourself, “What is my purpose?” Then, I’d like to challenge you to look beyond goals that might have been about personal achievement – though those are good and important – and consider your purpose that might benefit others or the world around you.

If you are the leader of an organization, I challenge you to look at the purpose of your organization, beyond creating wealth and increasing shareholder value.

Harvard Business Review recently wrote about purpose in business. In fact, in conducting a global study of high growth in companies, they came upon the usual suspects of strategies – creating new markets, serving broader stakeholder needs, etc. But they found that purpose was an equal driver as well.

Companies have long been encouraged to build purpose into what they do. But usually it’s talked about as an add-on—a way to create shared value, improve employee morale and commitment, give back to the community, and help the environment. But as we worked with the high-growth companies in our study and beyond, we began to recognize that many of them had moved purpose from the periphery of their strategy to its core—where, with committed leadership and financial investment, they had used it to generate sustained profitable growth, stay relevant in a rapidly changing world, and deepen ties with their stakeholders.

Last fall, the Business Roundtable, a group of 181 CEOs from some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. (including Apple, Amazon, Bank of America, Boeing, Comcast, J.P. Morgan Chase and Co., 3M, Wells Fargo and more,) redefined their vision of the purpose of a corporation. I wrote about their statement in a LinkedIn postThey said:

Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth.

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.

Has this changed view made a difference yet in the lives of their people? The jury is still out. Previously, they had said that “the paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders.” They evidently re-evaluated their purpose, but actions speak louder than press releases and we should be watching them closely.

Last year, Chapman and Co. Leadership Institute hosted TEDx Clayton, an independently organized TEDx event built around the theme of “Shaping the Human Experience.” John Stroup, CEO of Belden and a member of Barry-Wehmiller’s board of directors, gave a poignant talk about how his company balances their purpose and commitment to all stakeholders in their business.

As Belden struggled to find qualified employees to work in their plants, company leaders realized that 10-15% of applicants were failing the drug screening tests. They saw an opportunity to better the lives of the people in their communities by tackling the opioid crisis and offered a program where they would pay for rehabilitation for certain applicants who failed the drug screening and provide them a job, provided they stay committed to a drug-free life.

The program had helped 30 people, as of the date of John’s TEDx. He said the program has reduced turnover, created better senses of connection between the company and their people and their customers.

“Our company realized it wasn’t just a nice thing to do, it was the right business decision,” he said in the TEDx.

Our primary purpose at Barry-Wehmiller is to be in business so that all our team members have meaningful and fulfilling lives. It is the fundamental way by which we contribute to a better world. This is not just our purpose, it is the higher purpose to which we have been called to show other companies that business can be a powerful force for good.

Last November, Washington University’s Olin Business School hosted an organizational Higher Purpose conference, presented by Barry-Wehmiller, the Bauer Leadership Center and the Wells Fargo Center for Finance and Accounting Research. I spoke alongside a number of other business leaders and educators, including Bob Quinn of the University of Michigan.

Over the next few months, the Everybody Matters Podcast will bring you the remarks from conference participants. The wisdom of these leaders will help you as you are reevaluating your purpose and the purpose of your organization in the year ahead.

Is your company looking outside its own advancement to make a difference? Are you making a positive difference in the lives of your people beyond a paycheck? Now is the time to reflect and make a change for the better.


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Need help in applying principles of Truly Human Leadership in your organization? Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute is Barry-Wehmiller's leadership consulting firm that partners with other companies to create strategic visions, engage employees, improve corporate culture and develop outstanding leaders through leadership training, assessments and workshops.

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