Understanding the Stages of Corporate Purpose

As we discuss in our Power of Purpose Ebook, there are 8 stages on the pathway to purpose for organizations. Purpose professionals should be familiar with these stages so that they can carry their organizations and their evolving missions forward. Here’s the list of stages:

1. Profit Driven – bottom line profit-driven organizations

2. Purpose Pledging – company has made an aspirational pledge, often without a plan to operationalize purpose. “A new study has revealed that four-in-five companies assessed now include a commitment in their sustainability reports to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet fewer than half set measurable targets for how their actions contribute towards fulfilling the Goals,” says a 2022 Global Reporting Initiative report.

3. Purpose Washing – In leadership’s rush to stand for something, some organizations have risked putting the purpose “story” ahead of the purpose plan and actions. The result has been that businesses have been called out for “purpose washing” (the 20s equivalent of greenwashing) and opportunities for businesses to genuinely play a positive role in society have been jeopardized. Oftentimes this shows up as an unintentional or worse yet, intentional, give back strategy while continuing to deliver whatever product or service without regard to the negative externalities.

4. Purpose Aspirational – An opportunity for awakening when leadership sees that some key stakeholders are actually inspired by stories being spun. What would happen if we actually manifested the purpose we are proclaiming to have? And so begins an authentic Purpose Aspirational journey and exploration into how Purpose could help realize even more potential for the organization. How the business can both reduce negative externalities in their core business and find ways to positively impact people and the planet.

5. Public Benefit Corporation (Self-reported) – An organization can then become (5) A Statutory Public Benefit LLC, which is defined as a for-profit LLC that is intended to produce a public benefit and operate in a responsible and sustainable manner.

6. Purpose Hushing – Many of these businesses are actually implementing purpose for the right reasons and while hoping to distance themselves from purpose washers, they become overly careful to not brag about the principles of purpose they’ve implemented. This humble approach of Purpose Hushing can actually be detrimental to both the benefits of purpose to your ecosystem and the movement at large.

7. B Corp Certified – When the organization realizes that not only are they transforming their individual business, but also part of a larger movement that is transforming unfettered capitalism to stakeholder capitalism, they may go through the process of joining the more than 4000 B Corps across 77 countries and 153 industries, unified by one common goal: transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet. One key difference is that benefit corporations self-report their performance while B Corps use the B Impact Assessment to attain certification and are required to perform evaluations bi-annually to keep their certification. A company can be both a Certified B Corp and a benefit corporation.

8. Purpose-Driven – The ultimate aspiration is to become a Purpose-Driven organization where you are “not a product with a mission, but a mission with a product,” says Dave Batstone, Founder of REBBL. We don’t expect leaders to go as far as Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, when he gave away a $3 billion company proudly proclaiming, “Earth is now our only shareholder,” but if we can help organizations move to their next epoch on the pathway to purpose then we are certainly delivering on our mission to help catalyze businesses to be forces for good.

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