In 1960, Colorado inventor and president of Herman Miller Research Robert Propst declared that “today’s office is a wasteland. It saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort.”
Propst went on to spend the next eight years developing the Action Office system – the world’s first open-plan office system of reconfigurable components, embodying his purpose to create a healthier, more innovative and more productive workforce.
The system was an instant hit, transforming the design of workplaces worldwide and securing Herman Miller a leading position in the furniture industry. By the middle of the 20th century, the name Herman Miller had become synonymous with modern office furniture. Working with legendary designers George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames, the company produced pieces that became classics of industrial design.
Gabe Wing, director of sustainability at Herman Miller, credits the company’s ongoing success to its continued commitment to purpose. “Our purpose is to design for the good of humankind,” he said. “Being a purpose-driven company means you know why you come to work every day. No matter what your job title, you’re all working toward a common ‘why’.”
"Being a purpose-driven company means you know why you come to work every day. No matter what your job title, you’re all working toward a common ‘why’."Gabe Wing, Director of Sustainability, Herman Miller
Purpose also fosters greater loyalty – from employees and consumers alike, Wing said. “When your employees are connected to a bigger purpose and are engaged, they give you their discretionary effort; they are willing to go above and beyond when called on. And your customers are buying more than product; they are choosing to support a brand and the idea of helping to create a better world.”
Canadian apparel business tentree also believes in the benefits of a purpose-driven approach. Described by CEO Derrick Emsley as “a tree-planting company first and an apparel brand second,” tentree commits to planting ten trees for each product sold.
The tentree message has resonated with consumers, helping company plant more than over 51million trees to date – and the response has been as beneficial for the company as the environment. “Our team tripled in size. In just five years we moved from printing a few t-shirts to more than 500,000 annually,” says Emsley in a case study.
Herman Miller and tentree aren't alone. A recent Deloitte study reports that purpose-driven companies benefit from higher market share gains and grow three times faster, on average, than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce satisfaction. In fact, a separate survey conducted by Deloitte found that 73% of employees who say they work at a purpose-driven company report being engaged by their work, compared to just 23% of those who don't.
In addition, 55% of consumers believe businesses today have a greater responsibility to act on issues related to their purpose. “If you couple that with data from our 2019 Global Millennial Survey, telling us Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to patronize and support companies that align with their values, you realize that customers and clients truly care about what a company and their brand stands for,” said Suzanne Kounkel, CMO of Deloitte (US).
of consumers believe businesses today have a greater responsibility to act on issues related to their purpose.
Purpose-driven firms also are more likely to thrive during challenging times – such as the COVID-19 pandemic. “One of my favorite quotes is from novelist James Lane Allen," Kounkel said. "He said ‘adversity does not build character, it reveals it.’ I think that rings true when it comes to purpose, and something we’ve seen play out during this global pandemic. In our current environment, companies needed to decide what their role should be, in both how they help and how they position themselves. The companies that get this right have really stood out as the ones who stayed true to their purpose.”
Indeed, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Herman Miller's purpose of design for the good of humankind led the company to provide frontline healthcare workers with immediately needed personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks and face shields. “We are also making PPE for our own employees to use, so we don't take away from the global supply,” said Wing.
BUILDING A BETTER FUTURE
With many companies demonstrating the power of purpose, Kounkel believes more firms than ever before are realizing that business success today depends on more than financial performance.
“In conversations with clients and peers, I’m observing a clear shift of stakeholders demanding action,” she said. “More and more. leading organizations are starting to embed purpose into their business strategies – and seeing greater success as a result. They are realizing that, at the end of the day, their job is to leave the world better than how they found it.”
Wing agrees. “I think we are in the midst of an exciting new journey,” he said. “As our family of brands grows and evolves, we will walk alongside our partners to lean on one another for the knowledge and insights that help us design something incredible: a better world for everyone.”