In today’s world, companies are increasingly held to a higher standard. Businesses are expected to not only provide reliable, affordable products and services but also a sustainable solution for their associates, their operations and their communities. In many cases, such expectations become an integration of a larger purpose. The companies that do both of these well — the pursuit of purpose alongside profit — are better positioned to succeed in the current economy.

While an organization’s purpose-driven culture can be exhibited in a number of ways, the central element is that the program or service is not driven by product revenue, but is instead measured in social reward. Essendant’s approach to purpose is driven by the passions of all of our stakeholders — including management, associates, and even customers — to ensure that the company’s contributions are authentic and beneficial to all involved.

In some cases, a CEO inserts his or her own passion as the larger organization’s purpose, but what the CEO is passionate about may not resonate with associates. As a result, these companies may not have full associate engagement, and it becomes yet another “top-down” mandate. In contrast, a model that empowers stakeholders to have direct input and joint participation in purpose-driven initiatives ensures involvement from each group and guarantees maximum benefit for the community. At our company, a board comprised of associates from across our businesses and operating locations leads the Essendant Charitable Foundation. This broad-based approach to defining and pursuing our larger purposes enables our organization to truly engage associates and make a significant impact on their communities.

We see at least these three benefits to the purpose-driven model:

Building a customer connection:
Demonstrating a shared value and belief with customers can be a powerful driver to brand preference, which ultimately drives sales. Clear communication of your organization’s purpose provides a bond that increases the brand value with existing and potential customers.

Increased employee engagement:
Increased employee engagement is a major factor driving the growth of purpose-driven organizations as it results in higher workforce performance. Simply put, if you ask associates to help you service the needs of others — and you do this together — it is easier to ask them to help you when you need to engage in driving the pace of change in business today. This approach creates a culture of openness and trust, which leads to speed and high performance within the organization.

The retention of valuable, committed employees:
In today’s market, it is tough to attract and retain excellent talent. A company that positions purpose as a central element is better able to repeatedly capture high performers who recognize the company’s strong associate engagement, sense of trust and overall purpose efforts. Potential employees recognize this as a point of differentiation versus other organizations and then choose this company as a result.

The influence of a purpose-driven culture has grown significantly in recent years and is likely to continue to increase even more as millennials, who have shown an affinity for such social programs, assume a larger presence in the workforce. By empowering employees to help define their company’s purpose-driven culture, today’s leaders can build beneficial customer connections, increase employee engagement, and attract and retain valuable employees for years to come.