Four CEO Moments of Purpose from 2016

Leading a company with a strong sense of mission and purpose is not new. Yet I am always encouraged when I see clear signs that organizations are keeping purpose front and center with the work they do and the way they build their strategic plans. My recent piece on Patagonia highlights just one great example of purpose in action. 

But there are many more. CEOs were busy talking about, and driving, purpose in 2016. As I look back on the year, here are a few moments that stood out to me (I’m including links to the story behind each).

eBay Inc. President and CEO Devin Wenig

PWC’s 2016 US CEO Survey pointed out that more and more customers and prospective employees are investigating the “purpose” of business and the impact that operations have on the wider world. And where customers and talent go, investors will follow. In the report President and CEO of eBay Inc. Devin Wenig stated, “Purpose doesn’t have to be a do-good mission. Purpose is, ‘What’s the hole in the universe if your company isn’t there?’ To me, that sits above your brand, above your strategy, above your operations.”

Wenig illustrates the shift in purpose from something in the HR zone, to a critical component of the business plan – helping you stand out from competitors and grow market share.

Fitbit CEO James Park

James Park of Fitbit was interviewed in October and described his company’s shift in purpose as a way to position against competitor Apple.  “We are on the cusp of transitioning the mission and purpose of our company from a consumer electronics company to a digital healthcare company," said Park. Fitbit's focus is very different from Apple, Park said. The company aims to encourage users to become healthier and more active, whether it is through the use of its devices, software or services. 

Broadening the purpose to encompass more health-related products and services will allow Fitbit to expand its reach and do more good.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Back in June, Apple’s Tim Cook unveiled an update to Apple’s vision in front of an audience of developers in San Francisco. This was the first big update to the vision that had been in place since the Steve Jobs days. "At Apple, we believe technology should lift humanity and enrich people’s lives in all the ways people want to experience it," Cook said. This was a shift for Cook, who hasn’t been seen as the visionary Jobs was.  In recent years, Apple’s mission statement has been very product-focused and more clinical then inspirational.

Employees today want to get behind the purpose and mission of the companies they work for. It’s a CEOs job to inspire, and sharing this mission is a good step for Cook.

Eli Lilly and Co. CEO John Lechleiter

Pharmaceutical giant Lilly aims to be an “engaged, collaborative problem solver” rather than providing one-time or isolated support to a cause or organization, CEO John Lechleiter told an audience in November. For example, Lilly announced it will invest $90 million over the next five years to remove barriers to treatment for diabetes, cancer, and tuberculosis in places like Brazil, India and Kenya. The “Lilly 30x30” initiative has a goal to reach 30 million people annually by 2030, which would represent about a six-fold increase in the number of individuals the company reaches every year, outside of its traditional businesses. “In a nutshell, we will not only improve the human condition, but we will also learn how to run our business better,” Lechleiter said.

Eli Lilly is moving into a model of ecosystem social change, which requires immense coordination and planning, but also has huge payoffs.

So….how has your mindset been shifting as you think about the purpose of your own organization?  Is it clear in your own mind?  Is it understood by all of your stakeholders? How can you take your purpose and find ways to make it more tangible in the lives of all those you touch?  

Here’s to a 2017 full of purpose and meaning!