An organisation’s sense of purpose is critical, not only to its strategy but also to its culture.
More employees are choosing their next employer based on a clear ethical foundation and culture of innovation. I know it’s one of the main reasons why I chose to work at Capita.
In the latest episode of our From Incremental to Exponential podcast, Vivek Wadhwa and I spoke to Jon Lewis, CEO of Capita, to understand how he defines a purpose-driven strategy, and how Capita’s leadership team make it a reality throughout the organisation.
Purpose comes before strategy
Jon believes that purpose should be an organisation’s North Star: “There's an important interplay between the two, but I think we would argue quite strongly that purpose comes ahead of strategy. Purpose shapes all that you do, the markets you serve, how you serve them, the kinds of clients you engage with, those that you don't.”
In the case of Capita, it united the business during a challenging transformation three years ago, acting as a phenomenally effective vehicle in aligning culture and behaviour.
Vivek echoed these sentiments, citing the example of Microsoft. “How did Microsoft transform itself from an ageing dinosaur, a company that people predicted would be out of business, to being one of the hottest companies in the industry?” he asked. “CEO Satya Nadella focused on culture and values and purpose. He reoriented the entire company based on those principles.”
I identify with this personally. I had a career doing great things for great companies, but never fully felt that what I was doing aligned with what I believed. Therefore, I see purpose as an alignment of a person’s inner belief with the impact that a company can make on its stakeholders – which is exactly what Jon rolled out at Capita.
Following through on purpose
Purpose has to be consistently put into practice. Jon said: “We have to be honest and fair with our customers and suppliers. We have to be a good citizen in how we operate. We have to be a responsive and responsible employer. Lastly, we have to think about the future generations and be sustainable in our outlook. All of this then ultimately results, we would argue, in a better return for shareholders.”
He feels that this boils down to tangible acts that organisations undertake to demonstrate their commitment to being purpose-led. He cited the example of Capita, early on in its transformation: “We were the first British FTSE company to put two employees on its board. More than any other act we undertook, this probably did more to bring the organisation with us on our transformation journey.”
Purpose under pressure
“If you are a truly purpose-led business, then in facing a pandemic, the first thing you have to be concerned about is the welfare and health of your colleagues,” said Jon.
This was embodied in Capita establishing stringent Covid-19 guidelines and carrying out detailed symptoms analysis. The company also responded to ethical concerns from its LGBTQ+ employees, who questioned why it was selling software into Brunei, given the Kingdom’s attitudes to gay people. Overnight, Capita decided to stop selling its software into that market.
I feel that purpose under pressure is underpinned by three principles:
- Leadership, which creates the link between purpose, action and better outcomes
- Data, to capture whether we are following through on purpose
- Culture, which ensures that purpose is felt and encouraged across the organisation.
In the case of Jon’s leadership at Capita, purpose was driven by more than just talk. Vivek’s and my research into innovation has shown that innovative companies make decisions that are bold, make decisions quickly and are always ready to invent something new. Capita is actually an incredible example of that. Jon stated the overarching purpose soon after he joined the company. It was bold, quick and demolished overnight all of the previous boundaries that would have stopped us from changing our culture.
A new commitment to purpose has proven critical during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has been the guiding force for Capita’s decisions.
In closing, Jon said: “I think constant change is inevitable and the velocity of change is only ever going to increase. Productivity progression is fundamentally based upon it. But I do think we need to be thoughtful about the capacity of individuals and large organisations to digest the magnitude of change that Covid-19 subjected them to.
A cornerstone of our purpose needs to be striking the balance between the velocity of change and bringing the organisation with us in a way that champions inclusivity and mental wellbeing.