Five practical ways to build purpose into your business

Holly Branson wearing a microphone, sitting on a brown sofa, looking away from the camera
Image from BBC Sounds
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 8 January 2024

The word ‘purpose’ gets thrown around a lot when talking about business nowadays. This is a brilliant development, so long as it isn’t lip service.

I joined Virgin 15 years ago, and this is when we developed our purpose of ‘Changing Business for Good’. It felt right, because it’s what Dad has been doing since day one through smart disruption, putting people first, and challenging the idea that businesses should only exist to make profit. In a purpose-themed Virgin Pulse webinar this summer, I laughed at the idea of being invited to such an event all those years ago – most people just thought we were hippies when we mentioned ‘purpose’!

As we discussed in the webinar, it can be difficult to embed a strong purpose into an existing business, but it’s not impossible. We also shared a few examples and practical tips on the best way to find (and deeply embed) a purpose for your company, so I wanted to share them with you here.

1. Developing a purpose shouldn’t happen overnight. When researching and reflecting on what your purpose might be, you should ask these questions:

  • What role and meaning tod you want to play in people’s lives?

  • How can you co-create your purpose with your people, so they buy into it?

  • Who are your key stakeholders (not just shareholders) and how can you most positively impact them?

  • What is the most we can do, not the least we can get away with?

  • What are the long-term consequences (the good and the risky) of the decisions you are making today?

These questions will help you build out a strategic purpose that aligns with your employees, customers, operations, product/service, and the communities your business impacts.

2. Recruit with purpose: Recruitment is a very important way to drive meaningful change. Ensure your purpose and your values are at the front and centre of all job descriptions and built into the interview questions, to make sure there is a value-fit with the successful candidate. You also need to ensure you’re reaching the most diverse audience possible and make the recruitment process as accessible as you can. Your people are your greatest asset as a business, so you need to ensure they feel connected to your purpose, and that you have diverse voices feeding into it.

Holly Branson and Halla Tomasdottir in New York with Virgin employees

3. Sign up to support the Better Business Act, and change your Articles of Association (aka, your company rules) rules). This campaign is pushing the UK Government to amend Section 172 of the Companies Act to enforce business to look after people and planet, and not just profit. We joined the coalition a few years ago, but also realised we didn’t need to wait until the law changed to change our own Articles of Association. We updated ours, and it’s been a powerful way to show that our purpose really is at the heart of every decision we made, because we are legally obligated to balance the interests of all stakeholders.

4. Develop a ‘purpose one-pager’ and a ‘purpose decision-making filter’: The one-pager should be a rallying cry for your people to really understand your purpose, and live up to it in their own roles. The purpose decision-making filter is a simple criteria that people can use to make sure the decisions they make live up to the company’s purpose. I’ve shared more about the filter we created at Virgin Management and the incredible results it’s driven on a previous blog if you want to learn more.

Holly Branson sat on a sofa
Image from BBC Sounds

5. Implement industry-leading people policies to make sure your people are as engaged and well-rested as possible, so they have the energy to drive your purpose (and your business) forward. Two years ago, we implemented a ‘real-rest’ policy to give our people an extended break over the New Year period, because we know it can be difficult to really switch off when you take annual leave but the business doesn’t stop. It’s been a great way for people to really rest and recharge, and a powerful way to show that we really do put our people first – because when you think about looking after your stakeholders, you can’t forget your people. Virgin Pulse has developed this great tip sheet, in case you’re interested in implanting a real-rest period in your own workplace! You could use the tip sheet for other people policy experiments too.

Virgin Pulse tip sheet
Virgin Pulse

Thanks for such a great webinar, Virgin Pulse, and hopefully these tips will be helpful for any business’s purpose journey.