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  • Dr. Gavin Weeks

Purpose by Design

Purpose is, quite rightly, a topic for the times. As we live through a period of economic uncertainty and geopolitical challenge whilst navigating a climate crisis, organisations need to be at the forefront of positive change. In the words of Professor Colin Mayer at Oxford Said Business School

“The purpose of the business is to produce profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet, not profiting from producing problems”


In our work with clients it has become clear that the most enlightened organisations realise that defining purpose is only the first step of a longer journey. Using that purpose to challenge the business to do better and be bolder is where the biggest difference can be made. Bringing purpose to life in this way is both a design challenge and a learning opportunity.


Earlier this year we had the opportunity to bring purpose, learning, and design together with Asahi Europe & International, in a programme designed together with Catherine Sinclair (Chief Human Resources Officer) and Geraldine Percival (Head of Talent and Development). Asahi have worked over the last two years to define and align their organisational purpose, Creating Meaningful Connections for People and Planet, spearheaded by Drahomira Mandikova (Chief Corporate Affairs Officer). We have been fortunate to be part of the journey of bringing purpose to life and to connect purpose with leadership development.


This is where design comes in. Thami Schweichler, Thompson Harrison associate and founder of MakersUnite is, in his words “a designer by love and leader by necessity”. He has a background in product design and has built a business in the Netherlands using the principles of design thinking to create social inclusion, build skills, and solve social problems (most recently developing new clothing repair business models to address the amount of clothing that ends up in landfill).


As part of Asahi’s talent development programme, Thami introduced design thinking attitudes and practices to delegates, following which we issued a challenge to the group, to use design thinking methods to bring purpose to life in the organisation. There was no more instruction: small groups were given the freedom to apply ‘creating meaningful connections’ wherever they saw the need. Doing so involved these young leaders to stepping outside of the comfort of their function, their country of work, and their usual sphere of influence. They had support from sponsors Drahomira, Enrico Galasso (MD of Birra Peroni), and David Bidau (Chief Supply Chain Officer) but the process was driven and designed by each of the groups.


After 3 months, the groups presented back to the programme sponsors and CEO Paolo Lanzarotti. The chosen projects included innovations that both improve customer experience and reduce environmental impact, ways of creating connection across the business, supporting, and connecting with young talent, and building cross-functional awareness. Elements of each of the projects will be taken forward and some in their entirety. In every case, the groups demonstrated the potential of purpose to stimulate innovation and even to bring a new lens to familiar challenges.


Most importantly, the projects demonstrate three crucial factors in bringing purpose to life in a meaningful way:


1. To bring purpose to life, organisations need to identify new design challenges

2. Purpose and development can go hand in hand, providing an opportunity to practice new ways of working in a meaningful way

3. Game-changing ideas can come from anywhere in the organisation, if leaders make the space for them to emerge and take the time to listen


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