The coexistence of purpose and profit

Can businesses really balance purpose and profit? That question is an onion. Made up of many, many layers. And at the core it can be unwrapped and interpreted in many, many ways. However, that didn’t stop us from asking it.

We approached Shanice Duggan-Keefe, a learner on our Leading Change for Good Postgrad Certificate, about the topic. Why? Her role at Peakon sees her in this business/corporate environment on a daily basis, and shows her first hand how businesses can lead with purpose, and the fallout for those that fail to do so. On top of this, her personal journey which has culminated in her studying Leading Change for Good, reflects an understanding of the importance of purpose deeper than most people in their 20s.

Let’s start with her role as an Account Executive at Peakon, providers of an employee engagement platform. In the words of Shanice, “we help employees drive the change they want to see, by providing a platform that gives them a voice.” Launched in Aotearoa over 3 years ago, they have some pretty impressive clients on board.

“We’ve managed to bring on some of the most iconic kiwi companies, ones that I grew up admiring and aspiring to maybe work for one day. Globally though we’ve helped employees give over 28 million pieces of feedback to their companies and so much incredible change has taken place off the back of that.

It’s at Peakon that Shanice has solidified her view of the power of truly purpose-driven businesses, and how more and more employees are calling for purpose to drive key decisions. It’s the time for values to not only be articulated, but to become the backbone of businesses. 

This “purpose-driven” concept is not news to anyone. Deloitte states “Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.” The proof is already there.

However, it’s the journey to get there that gets a bit more complicated. From her experience in the implementation phase, Shanice states the blockers tend to be the same each time a business realises they need to change, but don’t really want to;

  • “We have so much on our plate right now”
  • “Our managers aren’t ready for change like this yet”
  • “We don’t have the budget”
  • “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”

Shanice acknowledges that many businesses are being held back by a generational wall, which sees those who have been in the workforce for a long time exhibiting a difference in expectations and behaviours to the younger generations. Those around the senior leadership tables are often reluctant to put in the time (read: money) and effort to make true change. They are still unsure of the overall impact of leading with purpose, even with all the research out there, as it’s simply not tangible enough. They’re completely perplexed by the concept of measuring success as something other than profit.

And the impact of this reluctance? Employee churn is front of mind for Shanice, who speaks on behalf of many in the millennial generation who wouldn’t work for a business unable to articulate their purpose outside of making money.

“For me, I have zero tolerance for businesses who aren’t even trying, there’s no excuse.”

This employee churn is costly, as is the lack of loyalty from this generation of conscious-consumers who simply won’t purchase products if they don’t align with the values of a company. These are the consumers and customers of the future.

Shanice’s role at Peakon plays a big part of who she is, her personal values, and the impact she wants to make on the world. There she can make real change for real people. But her journey to get there was a squiggly search for personal purpose in itself.

With a Māori father and a Pakeha mother, a childhood that saw her growing up across Aotearoa and Asia, and a desire to make an impact from an extremely early age, Shanice’s search for her place was one of trial and error. In fact, her story reflects the personal journey many of our Leading Change for Good students have taken.

When her grandfather told her she should be a teacher, like her grandparents, Shanice was already thinking bigger.

“I wanted to be the principal. Why settle for a classroom of 30 when you could lead the whole school? I was looking for the place where I could affect the most change.” 

After graduating Westlake Girls High School, experiencing the pressure like so many to figure out “what you want to be when you grow up” Shanice studied a Diploma in Business, while taking on roles in marketing, sales, events, in both a big kiwi corporate and a not-for-profit organisation.

“I loved my role at the big corporate but it didn’t have enough heart, and I personally couldn’t connect with it, so I couldn’t stay. So I moved to a role in a charity. They definitely had heart, and I believed in what they did. But their purpose was really different to my own purpose, and I wasn’t the one directly impacting change, I was too far away from it. It wasn’t enough.”

Finally, Shanice landed at Peakon, which she describes as “somewhere in the middle,” a balance of purpose and profitability that aligns with her own passions and strengths. It’s not exclusively purpose-based, there’s a tangible business aspect to it, but for Shanice this aligns perfectly with who she is.

“I truly believe in what we offer and the impact we can make for people. It’s so easy to sell because it’s driven by a purpose that has people at the heart. I don’t even have to sell, I just have to describe it. And internally our purpose is introduced as soon as any new employees begin.”

So, after seeing it first hand, and searching for her own balance of purpose and real-life, it comes back to the bigger question… the onion in the room. Can businesses really balance purpose and profit?

Shanice sees the answer quite simply.

“There’s really no reason not to. Last year saw businesses with purpose at their centre, and people in their heart, as those best able to pivot when they needed to. It’s about allowing space to make change, realigning to a clear purpose, and bringing everyone along on the journey.”

But how? Leading with purpose and making positive change, these are quite lofty ideas…

Shanice shares the story of her mother, and how her entire career was spent in the more male-dominated building industry where she admirably overcame the challenges that come with being less represented in that industry, as well as fighting to introduce more use of te reo Māori in her workplaces.

“What mum did was a small way of driving big change. Sometimes all it takes is someone to create a little ripple, it grows and grows, and as long as they have the support, they can make a difference.”

Although this change can and often will start small, Shanice continues, it still needs somewhere to go. As corporates hold so much of the workforce here in NZ, they’re the ones who will drive the larger ripple effect, and they need to get on board. How? Employ the right people at the right levels, give them the support they need to make an impact, and be open to change. 

There’s simply no other option as our generation starts to dominate the workforce, and the world of consumers, as businesses will fail to exist if they don’t.

In Shanice’s case her small ripple (or possibly her onion unpeeling…) was more of a “poignant moment” as she walked along the Auckland Waterfront and read an article from The Spinoff about Leading Change for Good

“The description of the leadership and personal development elements in the programme really hit a nerve. I realised I had lost track of some of my bigger dreams in life. A friend reminded me when we were younger I had once told her I wanted to be the Prime Minister, and I had completely forgotten that. So it was time to push myself out of my comfort zone again and reimagine myself as a leader in the “for good” space.”

Shanice finished her walk, signed up for the programme, and hasn’t looked back. Thanks to what she’s learned so far Shanice is optimistic about the prospect of big corporates creating that balance of purpose and profit, and truly leading “for good”, even though the journey can be daunting. 

“I hope that in my lifetime they can, there’s a path and enough people to drive change for good.”

Shanice can already recognise the power of a programme like Leading Change for Good in helping some of these ripples start. With the introduction of new business models, and indigenous leadership values, there will start to be a different approach to the measurement of success. 

“I can really see the potential impact of the programme like this in some of those senior leadership roles in big kiwi corporates.”

So, although the process is going to take time, and the measures for purpose-driven success are only fledgling, there are people out there like Shanice, and Shanice’s mum, who will constantly create small ripples. And eventually, big change will happen – change for good.

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