Putting purpose into growth

Leading companies are setting out a purpose for growth that ignites the imagination and energy of their teams and drives their strategic choices. The new growth agenda calls for a meaning to growth: an articulation of the type of growth the organisation is pursuing, and how it relates to the company purpose. Our research identifies that employees do not care about financial growth as much as leaders believe or expect. Business success alone is not enough reason for them to change their behaviour in support of company change plans. More than that, they want meaning.

In the research by Brand Learning with more than 900 business people from more than 90 companies across 42 countries, we found that purpose is a leading characteristic of organisations that drive growth. 87% companies that achieve a higher level of growth are guided in everything they do by a clear purpose. Beyond a ‘mission laminated not lived’[1] they use this purpose to make their growth agenda meaningful. With that meaning comes bolder strategic choices and stronger ambition. 

Unilever for example has re-oriented its business around sustainability with a goal to double its revenue without increasing its environmental footprint. This has led to entirely new practices in supply chain, brand development, communication – and across every part of the business. It has led to a new alliance with a palm oil producer to stop deforestation and exploitation of local communities, a new government partnership in India to enable local tomato production, new brand positionings and much more.[2]

The new paradigm of meaningful growth is most evident in the fast-growing employee-owned sector where companies like John Lewis & Partners and W. L. Gore have stated commitment to the happiness of their people. Growth is viewed as vital to creating that employee happiness. Shilen Patel, Founder of Independents United explains, “…growth has to be framed within a wider context which we frame as an equation upon which our entire organisation is built: Happiness = freedom + growth + impact.”[3]

However, meaningful growth is not only about employees. It is about setting a growth purpose as a springboard to choices and activities that need support from all stakeholders whether employees, investors, governments, regulators, partners or customers.

Let’s look at an illustrative example – contrasting growth purposes and choices for three sports and outdoor apparel companies: Patagonia, Under Armour and Nike. While their category may be similar, their growth purposes are fundamentally different, and lead to different business choices.

Fig 1. Illustrative growth purposes: a contrast (click image for full detail)


Purpose and meaning is not about brand reputation or corporate citizenship. It’s increasingly demanded by employees. Unilever’s attractiveness as an employer has grown as a result of its new growth purpose, and getting a job and progressing at Unilever will depend on how well you as an individual fit its growth agenda. The same goes for Patagonia, Under Armour and Nike.

Setting a growth purpose is a critical capability. It affects the people you recruit, the strategy you set, the skills you build, the culture and the ways you work.

At Brand Learning we have worked with clients setting a business and team purpose, and other leading companies wishing to develop stronger customer-centred strategies and plans. Our capability focus means that we help companies in developing the skills, processes, people, culture and ways of working they need to realise their strategy and purpose. We’d love to talk to you about how we can help your teams. Find out more about how we view capability development and what we do.

BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.


[1] Brand Learning research, 2016 

[2] Sources: Brand Learning research 2016 and Adam Morgan and Mark Barden, A beautiful constraint (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015)

[3] Brand Learning research, 2016