In last month’s podcast, we welcomed Maureen Young of Coast Capital Savings for an insightful conversation on social purpose – what it is, why it’s important for every organization to define one, and how to measure it to ensure you’re on track.
If you haven’t yet heard that episode – sponsored by Junxion Strategy and co-hosted by its CEO Mike Rowlands take a listen. For those looking for a bit more, we offer some important takeaways from that conversation.
The evolution of purpose
As Mike Rowlands, CEO of impact consultancy Junxion Strategy explains, companies respond to social and environmental challenges in one of 3 ways: 1. They put their heads in the sand, remaining focused on meeting shareholders’ needs, with profitability their ultimate goal. 2. They embrace enlightened self-interest. At the heart of the firm is the need for preservation and they respond to issues when needed. The approach has its benefits, to be sure, but inaction can still prove damaging. 3. They define a social purpose. Social purpose companies are focused not only on mitigating negative effects they’re committed to pursuing positive solutions. The approach signifies a huge shift in the role of business.
Social purpose was a relatively new direction for Coast Capital and can be an important one for any organization, says Young. “It defines your company’s reason for being,” she says on our podcast. “It’s about generating value not only for customers but to society more broadly.” Adopting a social purpose was a natural evolution for the credit union. “But it was also a tremendous way to differentiate and become even more relevant to those who hope to serve and support.”
How to find your purpose
Coast Capital is proud of the social purpose it identified: building better futures together by unlocking financial opportunities, with its focus primarily on income inequality. Young advises every organization to ask themselves the right questions – and follow some important steps – before adopting a social purpose that works for you.
1. Get support from the top. Purpose has to be core to the organization, says Young. It must be embedded in, and integral to, your corporate strategy and its foundational elements. That’s why it needs board level engagement and oversight. Coast Capital’s board was passionate about taking this step, she explains, adding she believes they are now moving effectively on their next steps because of that support received from the top of the organization.
2. Walk the talk. Once you identify your purpose, make sure you have the capacity to back it up. Don’t move forward with identifying it without knowing you have the people/processes in place to follow through.
3. Set clear goals. Make sure your goals are directly tied to the difference you want to make.
4. Ensure you have measurement capacity: Setting one’s purpose is not enough. Be sure you have the processes in place to measure your progress against it. For Coast Capital, that meant setting targets – e.g., by this date they will achieve x, y, z.
5. Establish a purpose measurement framework. It helps set a clear path ahead and ensures both internal and external stakeholders understand what you want to achieve.
How to measure your purpose
Very few companies adopt a purpose, never mind a purpose measurement framework. But, considering the importance of both, Coast Capital was fortunate to have the support of Junxion’s team. Consultant Charla Vall, in particular, was instrumental in helping the organization move along the process effectively.
When asked, Vall and Young shared these best practices on how to do measurement right.
1. Research best practices. Vall dug deep into existing frameworks created for measuring purpose, looking for what worked, what didn’t, and how to adopt the best approach for Coast Capita’s unique needs.
2. Promote stakeholder engagement. Ensuring all players in the ecosystem are a part of the process proved a vital step. It was important to talk about what matters, explained Vall. “Because we measure what matters.” They specifically looked for a variety of voices and focused as much on internal engagement as on external. “We wanted to make sure there was buy-in across the organization and that they have capacity to carry out the measurement.”
3. Be mindful of your theory of change. Map out the change you want to see. Your theory of change should involve short-term, intermediate and long-term aspirations. Junxion made sure to revisit Coast Capital’s theory of change to be crystal clear that they were on track to effect the specific change they had in mind. “This makes the process much easier to then say ‘ok how do we measure it’,” says Vall.
4. Create metrics. This involves amassing a comprehensive list of data points and then narrowing it down to the metrics you need, before building out the methodology. Be sure you know how you will collect and then interpret the data. “If you can pull in something you’re already tracking and can analyze it, that’s an asset,” shares Young. For Coast Capital, stakeholder interviews and workshops helped narrow those metrics down.
Coast Capital, for their part, identified long-term goals – set for 2040 – nearer-term goals set for 2030, and 3-year metrics. That mix of long-term, medium-term and more actionable short-term metrics was important. What was also important was ensuring a mix of metrics – some focused on employees, some on products/services and some on the bigger picture or systemic change. And they made sure to include metrics that employees can play a role in, to see themselves effecting change.
5. Know the difference between outputs and outcomes. Outputs, otherwise known as “bums in seats”, are easy to measure. But measuring the change that occurred is more meaningful. Did using that product or participating in that program lead to a lifestyle or mindset change? That’s harder to measure, yet really important to the process.
6. Communicate. The process of purpose measurement takes time, and patience is necessary. To reconcile that patient approach with the demands of business, Young found it important to communicate short-term progress as it evolved. In that way, stakeholders could start to feel the momentum. “As a business you have to be pragmatic and aspirational,” she explains.
7. Ensure there’s buy-in. The process is as important as the final product. Make sure you’re engaging stakeholders inside and out – and building buy-in internally. “You can’t work towards purpose and measure it unless you have the involvement of staff,” says Vall. “That buy-in is critical.”
8. Have patience. Remember: purpose measurement is not a tick-box exercise. It’s an ongoing journey. It’s about learning, measuring your progress, understanding what’s going well, and what isn’t, so you can adapt and scale even further. Collaboration and consultation is critical. But it takes time to do it well.
Ready to define your own purpose and create a framework to measures it correctly? Reach out to Junxion Strategy to get started.