When you think about organizations focused on higher purpose, you may think about those that explicitly work for the benefit of future generations, create a more just society on a mass scale, and develop sustainable solutions, such as United Nations, The Elders, or The Mother Theresa Foundation to name a few.

The positive impact these organizations make for people and planet is undeniable, yet higher purpose is important for all organizations to succeed, and there are many other worthy areas of focus where business can be a force for good.

levels-of-consciousnessWe will use the Barrett Seven Levels Model

[1] to illustrate this and will use examples of various organizations. The seven levels in the Barrett Model are (1) Survival, (2) Relationship, (3) Self Esteem, (4) Transformation, (5) Internal Cohesion, (6) Making A Difference, and (7) Service.


In the old way of thinking about higher purpose, we believe that the only true higher purpose is complete service, Level 7.  However, higher purpose can, and should, take many forms. When higher purpose is developed based on the passions of the company’s leaders and employees, positive impact can happen on any of the levels.


Level 1: Survival

Level One is focused on security, shelter, food and financial stability. It is about feeling safe.  The first company that we’ll highlight, Hot Chicken Takeover, has developed a higher purpose to support those most in need of basic survival.

Hot Chicken Takeover provides jobs to men and women who need a fair chance, due to homelessness, incarceration, or another barrier to employment. Once hired, they support their employees financial stability, professional growth, and personal development through H.R. policies aimed squarely at the basic survival needs of their employees.


Level 2: Relationships

Focusing on relationships is often the first step companies take on the journey of greater awareness.  When employees are treated well, communication is open, and there is a foundation of genuine care, employees perform better. Plus it is the “golden rule” in many faith traditions – treating others as you would want to be treated. This focus on a purposeful relationship with employees is a winning strategy for many industry leaders, including this large U.S. chain and a small local restaurant.

The Container Store has built their brand on the conviction that their employees are their top priority, their most treasured asset. They pay them 50 to 100 percent above the industry average and give first year employees hundreds of hours of formal training. They say that they truly love their employees and are committed to caring for their whole being – not just as workers.  Loving their employees appears to pay off since they have less than 10% turnover in an industry where the average employee doesn’t even stay a year.[2]

Nick’s Pizza Pub, in Illinois, set out to not just make pizza but to create an unforgettable place that takes care of families and their community.  They live their values of having fun, treating all employees with dignity and respect, encouraging the passions of employees, and supporting work/ home balance, to name a few. They also give back 5% of their annual net proceeds to the communities that they call home.


Level 3: Self-esteem

Level Three is focused on being the best in individual and team performance. The majority of organizations who assess their culture have level three as their center of gravity.  Excellence in performance is a core value for many companies, including Accenture, the world’s largest consulting firm as measured by revenues. “High Performance. Delivered.” was their tagline for many years.

Mastery at level three is about creating the kinds of systems and processes that deliver consistent success. Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of a level three focused purpose is that it is a foundation upon which even higher levels of aspiration can be achieved. For instance, it is what has allowed Accenture to grow to its global #1 status. The disciplines learned and practiced at level three have actually enabled Accenture to embrace transformation and teamwork at level four, a strong set of shared values at level five and embracing a culture of coaching at level six. A mastery of level three purpose, consistently delivering excellent performance, seems to be a nearly universal requirement for companies who wish to grow and sustain their success.


Level 4: Transformation

Transformation occurs when organizations learn, grow, and innovate.  In this age of technology, there are endless organizations innovating and improving the quality of life for people around the globe.

One example, Vodafone, is a multinational telecommunications company that provides telcom and IT services in 26 countries.  Vodafone’s vision is “to use our products and services to help transform societies and contribute to more sustainable living. Our vision sets out our ambition to deliver connectivity and innovative services to improve people’s livelihoods and quality of life. Central to achieving this vision is our longstanding commitment to manage our operations responsibly and ethically…We help more than 430 million customers share, create, learn, and grow. The rapid expansion of communications networks is having a profound impact on the way people manage their daily lives…for example, mobile can be enormously empowering for many women in emerging markets. High speed data networks are also changing how companies and public sector organizations operate, enhancing productivity and effectiveness, and in many cases reducing energy needs, therefore helping to address global warming.” [3]

Bottom line, Vodafone is a telecommunications and IT company and focuses their work on innovating their technologies.  The positive impact of their innovation is documented in their 2015-16 Sustainable Business Report.


Level 5: Internal Cohesion

Internal Cohesion is about building an internal community. It’s about developing shared vision and values, encouraging passion, ensuring integrity, and building trust. It’s the glue that enables a high performing team to excel.

DaVita Healthcare’s mission is “To Build the Greatest Healthcare Community the World has Ever Seen.” 500 to 600 clinic managers, senior managers, and other staff discussed, debated and voted on the company’s core values.  They selected and defined values including Team, Integrity, and Fun. The senior team found ways to bring the mission and values to life. DaVita gatherings have skits, senior managers dressed as the three musketeers, call and response, and chanting “One for All, and All for One.” Each activity encourages people to talk about the mission and values in a way that was memorable.  The CEO speaks of DaVita as a village and himself as mayor. He makes a point of recognizing hundreds of employees every year who went the extra mile for patients. In DaVita’s wildly spirited nationwide meeting, thousands of employees celebrate awards, mourn the death of patients, and connect with the emotional side of their work. Fueled by this kind of engagement over the past 15 years, revenues have risen from $1.4 billion to $11.8 billion, earnings from $-30 million to $663 million.  Patient outcomes have improved, employee turnover has declined, and DaVita has consistently been listed on Fortune’s annual compilation of Most Admired Companies.[4]


Level 6: Making a Difference

Level Six is about making a difference for others. The focus may be on any or all stakeholders. It may take the form of external community involvement or have an internal focus on coaching and mentoring to achieve employee fulfillment.

Our work helping organizations create a culture of coaching where every employee is developed and empowered to fulfill their own higher purpose is one example, but there are many more. EpochPi is a middle market investment bank with a level six focus. As they admit, investment banking is not unique, but what they do, who they serve, and how they do it is. They act with responsibility towards all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities, the environment, and shareholders. If you know anything about investment banking, you know this is truly a unique view of the purpose of an investment bank.

The Tata Group is a global enterprise headquartered in India, and comprises over 100 operating companies who have a higher purpose aimed squarely at supporting the quality of life in the communities where they do business. One of their businesses is the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces which include the Taj Mahal Palace, scene of a horrific 2008 terrorist attack. Both the immediate response of the brave and selfless hotel employees and the compassionate response by the Tata leadership is an inspiring example of a business intent on making a positive difference. Within 24 hours of the attack, they set up five outreach centers for their associates and guests staffed with experts in post-trauma counseling talking with people individually and in small groups.

Families of the 15 Taj employees who died are being paid their deceased’s salaries for the rest of their lives, as well as all medical benefits and education for surviving children up to age 24. Beyond this, they provided aid and relief not just to their customers and employees, but anyone in the public who was traumatized by the unfortunate circumstance of being near the hotel during the attack. Read more of the story here or watch this video.


Level 7: Service

Organizations that are fully dedicated to the service of humanity and the planet think about their social responsibility, environmentalism, future generations, ethics, compassion, and humility. They are focused on the common good and how they can make the most difference in the world.

Interface started in 1973 as a standard carpet company. In 1994, the CEO Ray Anderson had an epiphany about the detriment his company was doing to the world, and set out to completely transform every aspect of his business, from the traditional industrial model toward a business focused on sustainability, using a cyclical model mimicking nature.  They set goals to run on 100% renewable energy, to eliminate waste from their operations, to recycle and then reuse materials from their products, to develop a culture that uses sustainability principles to improve the lives of all of their stakeholders, and to teach other companies to do the same.  They instituted Ecometrics and SocioMetrics to measure and manage their continuous improvement in these areas.

Interface has also proven that you can do well by doing good. They are a billion-dollar corporation, named by Fortune magazine as one of the “Most Admired Companies in America” and the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”[5]


The Higher Purpose Journey

Your organization’s higher purpose is a journey, not a destination.  Each of these organizations highlighted are on a journey. Not one of these companies is perfect. Not one of these companies is solely focused on one level.  However, they have set the intention, the vision, the mission, and their aspiration. They have created plans and taken action.  They are changing the world, in big and small ways.

No matter your company, you have the opportunity to create an inspiring vision and to leave a lasting impact, your legacy.  Your vision and the way in which you contribute may not look like any other company’s mission.  In these complex and dynamic times, there is opportunity and real need all around us.  How would you like to contribute?



[1] The Barrett Model is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, expanding the levels of self actualization.

[2] http://standfor.containerstore.com/putting-our-employees-first


[4] http://microcapclub.com/2016/07/davita-healthcare-partners-dva-intelligent-fanatic-led-turn-around/


[5] http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Sustainability/Interface-Story.aspx