A growing number of Canadian organizations are daring to challenge the relentless focus on short-term results. They are aiming for something higher – purpose – and they’re reaping the rewards, including higher profits.

Who are these organizations and how are they doing it? Last week we heard from the pioneers and trailblazers of this movement at Canada’s first Modern Day Wisdom event in Toronto. With drinks (thank you, Mascot Brewery!) in hand, business, marketing, HR, and corporate social responsibility professionals mingled in General Assembly’s cozy and inspiring event space, discussing the role of business in society on the eve of Canada’s federal election, in which issues like climate change were, for the first time, at the top of voters’ agendas.

The event featured a rockstar lineup of panellists, including Nick Parker, founder of seven startups and known for coining the word “cleantech”; JP Gladu, President & CEO of the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business and passionate advocate for Aboriginal business in Canada; Jen Kidby, Director of Talent & Leadership Development at Grant Thornton and a chartered psychologist; Steven Fish, Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility at Aurora Cannabis and a CSR expert; and moderator, Jessica Pelchat, Kin&Co’s National Director in Canada.

In case you missed it, here are the four biggest nuggets of wisdom we took away from the evening:

  1. The business case for purpose is multifaceted and has countless benefits.

Panellists said they are pursuing purpose for a variety of reasons, and doing good is certainly one of them. As Nick put it, “We need to choose to be architects of a better future, not janitors cleaning up the mess we’ve left on Earth.” However, these trailblazers aren’t only doing it out of the good of their hearts. “Doing the right thing is a $20 trillion opportunity,” Nick continued. Purpose also reaps its own rewards. Jen shared that, at Grant Thornton, they use purpose to attract the right talent: “We show people our purpose and let them self-select in or out.”

  1. To do well and do good, you need to play the long game.

The most successful organizations adapt their cultures and practices to look beyond short-term results. Leading corporate social responsibility at a publicly-traded company with explosive growth, Steven understands the challenges: “We grew from 300 to 3,000 employees in just over a year. With that kind of growth and the need to deliver shareholder value, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started in the first place. Our purpose as a medical cannabis producer will be what continues to ground us.”

  1. Companies are still figuring out how to measure purpose, but its impact is clear.

Panellists discussed the challenges of measurement, but agreed it is crucial to getting purpose right. Speaking from experience, Jessica shared, “A lot of companies struggle to get purpose right, but it is possible when you put a framework in place to measure success.” Jen suggested that a good starting point is listening to what your employees and customers have to say about your company: “It’s hard to quantify purpose, but we let stories tell our impact.”

  1. It’s not always clear what is the right thing to do; we need to be comfortable with ambiguity.

Panellists explored some of the inherent tensions that surface when you have different purpose goals. While some Aboriginal communities in Canada are investing in natural resources such as oil and gas to help reduce poverty, others argue that preserving the environment is more important. Both purpose goals are important, and we need to get creative to find ways to address the tensions between them. However, JP stressed that, at the end of the day, it should be communities that make the choice: “Communities need to be self-determining.”
Trying to make the case for purpose beyond profit in your organization? See Kin&Co’s report, Purpose, eh? How Canada can lead the way or reach out to rudolf.dutoit@kinandco.com.