How to Define Your Purpose Footprint

In Purpose, Mission & Values, Beliefs & Philosophy

A furniture store founded in 1943 with no product delivery, no sales people, an impossibly labyrinthian store design and assembly required on virtually everything it sells. Could this business concept possibly succeed in 2015? Yes, and it can thrive. IKEA has continued to do well across borders and through decades with this unique business model. How? It has to do with clarity of purpose, a laser-like focus on fulfilling that purpose in responsible ways.

Believing that too many high-design products could only be afforded by a handful of wealthy people, Ingvar Kamprad created his Scandinavian furniture company to do something more than just make affordable products. He believed that good design improved lives, so IKEA was built “to create a better everyday life for the many people.” This purpose has driven the company – and its strategic decisions, plans, and actions – ever since. And let’s be clear: the ‘many people’ are not just customers in the 46 countries where the world’s largest furniture retailer operates. IKEA defines “the many” as all co-workers (as they refer to their employees), customers, suppliers, and the communities where they live.

All evidence that IKEA not only lives their purpose, but understands and continually seeks to improve their Purpose Footprint. What is a Purpose Footprint? Put simply, it’s the impact your business has (intentionally or unintentionally) on the people you serve, as seen through the lens of your purpose.

Here are four steps to be intentional about your Purpose Footprint:

1. First, answer the foundational questions. Have you established your purpose as a business? (And no, it’s not profit, and it’s not your product.) Have you determined how you will fulfill that purpose? For IKEA it is through “Democratic Design,” combining good form, function, quality and sustainability with a low price. Do you understand your values and the things you believe in as a company? For IKEA, it is simplicity, frugality and a commitment to good design. Knowing the answers to these questions, you will be able to identify the boundaries of your footprint.

2. Next, identify the people you serve and touch in pursuit of your purpose. And these people are not just your customers. Just as a company considering its carbon footprint must look across all stakeholder groups to measure their impact, a company seeking to understand its Purpose Footprint must be similarly diligent and expansive in your thinking. IKEA extended their footprint to include all the communities where their suppliers live, not just their employees.

3. Now, consider the impact of your operations on these people. Where is your impact positive, and where is it negative? Through IKEA’s efforts, an estimated 125,000 farmers in India, Pakistan, China and Turkey have started growing cotton in more sustainable ways (using less chemical fertilizers and more natural alternatives to chemical pesticides) cutting their own costs and improving the environment. Sometimes your footprint includes people (or animals) you might not have considered: in the summer of 2015 IKEA began testing ‘dog parking lots’ to keep pets safely out of hot cars while their owners are shopping. Improving everyday lives, and not only through their products.

4. Finally, now that you understand your Purpose Footprint make sure you dedicate time, talent and resources to increase your positive impact. Each company’s footprint will be different, and how you approach managing it will change over time. The point is to know its importance and measure your results.

This article may be reprinted when the copyright and author bio are included. ©2015 Haley Boehning, Storyforge, LLC.

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Haley BW smallerHaley Boehning is a principle at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.