Leading with purpose – lessons from UK businesses

by Nov 22, 2019Alumni news

It’s easy for a company to plaster its purpose on the wall. It’s much harder to embed that purpose in staff.

So how do companies do it? Leaders from some of the UK’s most purpose-driven companies gathered in October to share their experiences.

The panel was part of the Princess Royal Training Awards Alumni Pop-up conference, held in East London.

Award recipients past and present gathered to hear best practice from companies like GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Veolia.

Here are lessons the panellists shared on taking an abstract concept like purpose and making it a defining part of your business.

Chris Jones, Chief Executive, City & Guilds Group

The City & Guilds Group strengthens its purpose by measuring social value. Chris is just as interested in social impact as he is in financial value.

He said staff have a simple, purpose-driven checklist to make sure they are spending time on the right activities. They ask themselves “how everything we do creates a skilled and productive society, strengthens an organisation’s ability to compete, and links towards creating secure and sustained employment.”

He also believes in the power of repetition to make sure it stays top of mind for staff. In his words, company leaders need to “be relentless about the narrative.”

Matthew Pitt, Head of People Development at Veolia

Veolia is the UK’s number one waste, water and energy services company. Choosing the company’s purpose was easy: to be carbon neutral.

But helping more than 14,000 employees unite in one purpose when they all have vastly different jobs was a challenge.

That’s why the company is so insistent on walking the talk. While some waste management companies export waste to Asia instead of dealing with it themselves, Veolia doesn’t. Instead, it works with companies to reduce waste, then finds low-impact ways to dispose of the rest. It also has high targets for changing its fleet to clean vehicles.

Another way Veolia earns internal trust is taking staff concerns seriously. Some staff were getting abuse from the general public for getting in the way while picking up waste.

In response, Veolia created the respect at work programme, which offered training to 3500 staff. It gave them better skills to defuse situations with the general public, and received 99% positive feedback from staff.

The programme earned them a 2019 Princess Royal Training Award.

Anna Markland, Ventures Manager at UnLtd

UnLtd faces a different kind of challenge. Rather than trying to instil the company’s purpose in staff, they help other companies embed their own purposes.

UnLtd finds, funds and supports social entrepreneurs with bold ideas to tackle the key issues facing society.

One example of a company they helped is Redemption Roasters. The coffee producer and distributor helps offenders gain employable skills in roasting, producing, and serving coffee. It has a roastery set up in a young offenders prison in Aylesbury, and four London coffee shops outside the prison walls.

UnLtd worked with Redemption Roasters staff to get excited by focusing on how they are changing lives. Anna said connection to purpose is particularly important for social enterprises when recruiting.

“They can’t compete on pay or perks, but they can on purpose,” she said. And companies who join for purpose tend to be more loyal and engaged.

Sue Gammons, Coaching Director, GSK

GSK is one of the largest and well-known pharmaceutical companies in the world.

How do leaders drive purpose home? It starts with taking the external slogan and applying it to internal staff.

“Do more, feel better, live longer starts with us as employees,” Sue said. Otherwise, staff won’t be able to take care of customers.

The practical way they apply it at work is creating development programmes linked to three questions:

  • How do I bring my whole self to work?
  • How can I feel good at work?
  • How I can I keep growing through development and training?

An important part of that is becoming more inclusive. Anna’s team developed the ‘Accelerating Difference’ programme, which helps women move into senior roles.

“We help women to think about their own purposes,” she said. “What are their strengths? Who are they naturally as leaders? What’s their purpose more generally in life? How does that fit with GSK?”

The high retention rates and promotion levels of people who complete the programme show it’s working. “[The programme] helps them to be more confident as leaders by identifying what kind of leaders they want to be,” she said.

GSK is on track to hit their target of having 37% of women in senior roles by 2022.

Martin Jones, Chief Executive, Home Instead Senior Care

Home Instead Senior Care helps elderly people to stay in their own homes as long as possible.

It is the largest provider of home care globally, and its purpose is changing the face of ageing. What Martin realised is to change the face of ageing, Home Instead needs to change the face of caregiving as well.

He supports 11,000 caregivers in the UK, and works to raise the profile of carers in the UK. His unique challenge is that a caregiver’s purpose must run deep.

“Culture evolves from strategy,” he said, “but values are from the heart.”

Luckily, he says the type of people attracted to Home Instead don’t take much convincing. The company operates a franchise model, and most franchisees have had a poor experience of care for a loved one and want to making caring better for others.

“We don’t need our mission on the wall or in a book; it’s just something we talk about,” he said. “We recruit people who truly believe in it.”

The company is also committed to helping caregivers handle the complex and varied situations they face when delivering end of life care.

They developed a programme to provide skills and resilience to deal with stressful and emotional situations – leading to a 4% reduction in staff attrition. The successful programme earned Home Instead a 2019 Princess Royal Training Award.

See a list of all 2019 Princess Royal Training Award recipients >


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