The Shift Towards Purpose
Perhaps the greatest difference in corporate behaviour between the first two decades of this century and the last decades of the twentieth century is the recognition that organisations cannot exist on profit alone. A sole focus on profit hollows out organisations in all sorts of ways – motivationally, innovatively and ethically.
The twenty-first century has brought a swathe of new challenges for organisations. Today we cannot move for the discussion of what digital transformation means for business and the wider society. Innovation is an imperative for businesses at all stages of their lifecycles. And the looming threat of having to manage environmental sustainability hovers over every new project.
We have seen for several years that participants on our open enrolment programmes have a thirst for more intrinsic, human elements alongside the hard data learning that has traditionally been the business school staple provision.
We are seeing a steady ‘shift towards purpose’. Where participants want to know how they can run their operations and businesses in a way that not only strengthens the balance sheet but also strengthens their positive connections with the stakeholders and communities that interact with them.
Today the inclusion agenda is a red threat that runs through all our open programmes.
Regardless of the core topic we find that at some point the discussion turns to what the impact of the activities we are exploring will be on those involved and the environments they touch.
Oxford Saïd’s experience with this has been evolutionary. In 2013 we launched the Impact Investing Programme which was a pragmatic response to the rise in the number of funds involved in this investment sector. Yes philanthropists and NGO staff have participated but also financial professionals, corporate managers and public sector executives too.
Increasingly our most senior level programme participants are searching for something to leave behind that is more enduring than a year or twos worth of good EBITDA figures.
Leaving organisations happier, more sustainable and doing good is a legacy most CEOs and board members are proud to sign up to.
In tandem with weaving this inclusivity and purpose-oriented content into programmes, is a heightened focus on measuring their impact too. We find that being able to benchmark this progress gives leaders a chance to avoid the strategic mistakes often associated with short-term goals which may see initiatives drift away from the original purpose organisations have set. Sensing this shift Oxford Saïd works closely with partners who specialise in traditional impact measurement, but have also introduced an impact measurement programme which takes into account the sensitives associated with impact firms and provides key frameworks to measure outcomes/impact while keeping the organisational purpose at the forefront of mind at all times.
The shift towards purpose is as invigorating for us at the business school as it is for the participants. We know we are not going to solve any global problems overnight, but it is enormously rewarding to be part the conversations which guide and encourage participants’ organisations to make changes that will have positive impacts beyond just the bottom line.