Three dominant traits shared by successful purpose-led businesses


To build 21st century-worthy organisations that meet the needs of our time, every organisation needs to unleash the potential of their people.
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With only 17% of the Australian and New Zealand workforce engaged in their work*, so much potential lies dormant: ideas, innovation, solutions, opportunity, energy.

Workers are uninspired. The organisations that employ them fail to capture their hearts and minds and unleash the best they have to offer. We have all experienced ourselves or known of someone starting a new job – excited, eager, filled with hopes and ambitions that were probably cultivated at the job interview; only to find the reality doesn’t match what was sold. Unfulfilled aspirations.

Yet some businesses are bucking this trend. They attract and retain highly engaged employees who love what they do and contribute their best efforts. This results in the organisation’s success.

These businesses are most often driven by a higher purpose. If you want specific examples look no further than Great Places To Work. In the 2021 Great Place to Work Best WorkplacesTM  list, it is the companies with purpose who did best of all.

However, since purpose has become such a strong movement in recent years, it has become seemingly ubiquitous. The reality though is that having a purpose statement does not make a business purposeful.

It is therefore useful to look at the most purposeful businesses – the standouts that you read or hear about; and dig a little deeper to identify some of the characteristics they have in common. Are these characteristics your organisation has?

Shared narrative

What connects us? 

Are the bonds that connect us just environmental, linked to the place we work? Are they structural, linked to the teams we work with? Or are they emotional bonds?

This question has huge relevance today, with many employees resisting a return to the workplace, having got used to working-from-home. Organisations with a clear shared narrative develop emotional bonds between their employees. This is their unique organisational identity and it connects directly with the business’ higher purpose.

No longer just about why you exist, today an organisation’s higher purpose is as much to do with who you are and what you deem important. The stronger your why aligns with your who:

  • The deeper and more potent your purpose.
  • The more connected the people in your business are to each other and to the purpose driving the organisation. They are emotionally bonded.

These internal emotional bonds extend externally to a brand’s customers through the purpose and values consistently demonstrated by the brand experience.

Transformative leadership

Why are we in business?

Is it to make money for owners/investors/shareholders? Or is it to create value for our customers? Perhaps it’s both.

Businesses driven by a higher purpose go beyond both. They have absolute clarity that they are in business to lead change. Their leaders know it, their people know it, their investors know it and their most loyal customers know it. They are bound together by a shared narrative and are driven collectively to create transformational change, driving profitability as a result.

Powerful stories

What kind of stories do we share?

Are they ad hoc and incoherent? Or do they have a consistency about them? Perhaps they’re interesting.

The most purposeful businesses generate stories that others find inspiring. Those stories are shared with enthusiasm from person to person. Authentic stories shared organically build confidence in the business and the brand, both within the organisation and outside of it. This builds trust, the currency of success.

When a business has a clear and unique organisational identity, driven by a galvanising higher purpose, they attract and engage people invested in their success, leading to action and innovation and resulting in compelling stories that inspire their employees, customers, partners and investors to love and support them. As a result, these businesses are more agile, resilient, innovative and they lead their categories and financially outperform their counterparts.

These are “purposeful” organisations. And they are beating a path to the future and showing what good business can look like.

*Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2022: Australia & NZ 17% employee engagement

Carolyn Butler-Madden, author of two books on Social Purpose, “For Love & Money” and “Path To Purpose”, is a purpose specialist. Learn more at