Purpose, culture and impact: The importance of engaging your people

When companies talk about purpose, there's often a focus on embedding it into the organisation from the top down. But what do purpose and sustainability really mean to our people - and how can we make sure that they act as catalysts to drive meaningful change in our businesses and in society? Tracey Herald, Head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Virgin Media O2, explores.

Purpose, culture and impact: The importance of engaging your people

Taking my seat at the table for edie’s latest Better Business discussion, it was clear that businesses large and small are taking purpose seriously. We talked about what the term really meant to us as sustainability leaders, and why it’s become so important for organisations in every sector in recent years. For me, a meaningful corporate purpose acts like a north star – an organising principle to ensure that our business delivers a lasting positive impact on people and planet – a legacy beyond profit. It’s about moving from a ‘do no harm’ mindset to a ‘do more good’ approach, and ultimately leaving things better than we found them.

Embedding purpose in culture

Making corporate purpose a driving force behind business strategy – and staying accountable by putting public goals in place – are important first steps, but our people have a crucial role to play in taking these plans from paper to impact. And yes, this often starts at board level: getting buy in and giving your leaders clear objectives (we have linked our ESG goals to remuneration) helps set the path for everyone else. But it doesn’t stop there. Historically, we have found that galvanising employees from across the whole company has helped make purpose and sustainability part of our culture – and can deliver a bigger and better impact overall.

At Virgin Media O2, we now have an 18,000-strong workforce who can make a huge difference both in and outside the workplace. Commitments like our goal to achieve net zero carbon operations (scopes 1 and 2) by the end of 2025 often directly influence how our people do their jobs, but there can also be a knock-on impact at home. Moving our network to renewable electricity or transitioning our field-based team to an electric fleet can help to inspire similar changes at home – enabling our employees to make greener choices in their personal lives.

Critically, it’s also important to offer employees ways to challenge the status quo. Our ‘Better for the Planet’ Workplace group actively encourages our people to share opportunities to improve our environmental performance by connecting and empowering them. We’re seeing this drive recommendations for change into action across the business, for example improving the material make-up and packaging of our accessories in store.

Let purpose natives take the lead

A resounding takeaway from the Better Business discussion for me was the need to keep evolving our purpose-driven plans to ensure that they maintain relevance and meaning, especially for the next generation. We must not let ourselves be bound by the way we’ve always done things – and listening to and learning from ‘purpose natives’ – young people who now expect businesses to balance profit with purpose – is an exciting new frontier.  The next big opportunity for business will be how we raise the voices and views of young people in shaping and bringing to life our purpose in new and imaginative ways. These insights will shape the employee experience – but will also allow us to tap into growing trends in values-led customer behaviour and choices too.

The Better Business Roundtable: Purpose, Culture and Impact

edie’s Better Business is about making that change happen, from the top. This series of quarterly roundtable discussions will unite CEOs and board-level directors for much-needed dialogue around the future of sustainable business.

Our inaugural discussion of the series focuses on purpose, culture and impact. How can business be a force for good in the world and for ourselves? How can business leaders build a company culture which balances purpose and profit? And how can we have a more positive impact on our workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment?

Brought to you in association with edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum and with assistance from Centrica Business Solutions, the first part of this new report series examines how businesses can redefine their purpose around the themes of COP26, climate action and the green recovery.

Click here to download the report.

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