This Life: Is your business chasing dollars or a noble purpose?


Three years ago, Lisa Earle McLeod was in a huddle with the CEO of a global educational software firm when he asked if she could create a three-day strategy intensive with his team.

When they gathered days later, they started naming and claiming their “noble purpose” — being clear about how their products make life better for their customers and why that matters to each employee.

If you’ve been watching the news this year, I’m sure you can think of at least a few companies that could benefit from, well, a nobler cause.

In a world where we spend the majority of our waking hours at work, that work should mean more than just a paycheck. Using our talent to have an impact on people’s lives should be the thing that drives us. And guess what? You don’t have to work for a nonprofit to make that happen.

The software firm McLeod worked with cascaded its purpose through every facet of its business and within the year had vastly improved its revenue, market share and employee engagement.

That was all good, but it occurred to McLeod that there was huge value to giving people space and time with peers to discuss strategy and that she could have an even bigger impact if there was a way to facilitate a meeting with multiple industry leaders at once.


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“People often get mired in their own business,” McLeod said. “But when you’re in a room of peers facing the same challenges, it ignites new thinking, and leaders get different answers than they would with an in-house team.”

With that, the Atlanta-based sales leadership consultant took a leap of faith and a year ago founded the Noble Purpose Institute to create a tribe of people who had a purpose-driven lens on business.

“The path to more purpose is also the path to greater profit,” McLeod said.

At first, it was just a hunch that organizations focused on the noble purpose — improving customers’ lives — would outperform traditional numbers-driven organizations. But after just one year of implementing McLeod’s methods, clients from Hootsuite to Kaiser Permanente, to HR.com are seeing dramatic increases in sales, improved employee engagement and customer retention.

“It was such a huge success we decided to make it an annual event,” McLeod said.

And so early this month, 20 business leaders from around the world gathered again at Lake Oconee in hopes of creating more purposeful workplaces. Representatives from Toronto-based travel firm G Adventures were there. Silicon Valley networking giant LinkedIn. Skin care experts Rodan + Fields and others.

Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, credits Noble Purpose with helping increase revenue at his company from 25 percent to 35 percent in just one year.

Ditto for Blackbaud, the Charleston, S.C., software firm that first employed McLeod’s methodology four years ago. The company’s CEO, Mike Gianoni, is featured in McLeod’s book, “Leading With Noble Purpose,” which documents how Gianoni transformed Blackbaud into a purpose-driven firm, growing the customer base by 20 percent and doubling stock price in a two-year period. Gianoni has since been named a top 50 SaaS CEO.

Results like these draw leaders to McLeod’s institute.


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“If your organization makes a product or solution clients are willing to pay you for, you probably have a noble purpose,” McLeod said. “The challenge is the purpose and meaning employees crave often gets lost in the day-to-day cadence of business.”

She believes high-profile businesses like Blockbuster and BlackBerry failed because they became inwardly focused.

“They were out-innovated by organizations whose noble purpose was to improve life for customers,” McLeod said. “Look at the recent banking scandals. The majority of people who work at those firms are what I call noble bankers. Yet if the day-to-day message becomes nothing more than hit the number, with no talk about client impact, some employees are going to cross the line.”

It’s worth noting, two leaders from Wells Fargo attended McLeod’s institute.

“The key question for any organization is: Do you have a purpose or do you just sell stuff? If the answer is we just sell stuff, you’re doomed to mediocrity,” McLeod said. “An organization focused exclusively on targets and quotas becomes an every man for himself rat race. Naming and claiming customer-focused purposes provide people meaning and context, it helps them do the right thing, it creates alignment.”

In many ways, McLeod’s purpose institute underscores the timeless messages in Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” and Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” that each of us should use our talents and influence to do good.

“It’s a myth that you can’t be a purposeful company who puts customers first and pays your employees a living wage,” McLeod said. “The data tells us the exact opposite is true, and our clients have proven, purpose drives profit.”

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.



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