Why a CFO believes you can’t have one without the other.
Can having a purpose help you live longer? There are reasons to think it is possible.
Consider This: The people of Okinawa, Japan are famous for their concept of ikigai, which translates to “the reason to get up in the morning”. They are also known for their longevity: Okinawa has one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world. “Their purpose-driven lives give them clear roles of responsibility and a sense of being needed until the hundred,” says author Dan Buettner.
Extend this idea to the business world. I would say the goal is the ikigai stakeholders. Young people in particular are determined to express their purpose by working for, buying, investing and associating with environmentally and socially responsible organizations.
It boils down to this: people want to do business with companies that reflect their core values.
As CFO, my priorities are growth and sustained profitability, as well as purpose. This is because purpose and profit are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they are intrinsically linked. They can and must co-exist to achieve relevance and longevity.
The targeted experience
For as long as I can remember, business leaders have focused almost entirely on profit. Today, fortunately, we live in a more conscientious time, with organizations that balance people, goals and profits.
“Goals-driven companies experience higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors, while achieving higher employee and customer satisfaction,” according to a recent Deloitte study.
The goal appeals to all stakeholders. Research shows that these same goal-driven companies see 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors.
To be clear: every for-profit business has a similar goal: to make money. Purpose can drive growth and value creation.
The goal is not hierarchical
To be effective, an organization’s purpose must resonate internally and externally, from early career employees to the board of directors. One of my favorite examples goes back 60 years. In 1962, when President John F. Kennedy visited the NASA Space Center, he noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He introduced himself and asked the janitor what he was doing for NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”
It is the epitome of purpose in action at all levels of an organization.
Likewise, ServiceNow’s goal is to make the world a better place for everyone. It’s contagious and my connection to how I present myself daily at work runs deep because of it. This is one of the main reasons why this is my dream job.
Fred Reichheld, a longtime Bain consultant who created the Net Promoter Score (NPS), echoed that sentiment when speaking to our organization. He shared:
“Great companies are committed to a higher purpose, a purpose to enrich the lives of customers. Companies that are committed to putting customers first are the ones that will attract and retain the best employees, because good people are inspired by the idea of making the world a better place. It makes good business sense because when you treat customers the right way, it doesn’t just make your employees proud; it turns those customers into your promoters, your best sales force, your best marketing organization, and your best source of new ideas.
We believe ESG is a journey, not a destination. We are here for the long term.
Social investment = business investment
Incorporating an environmental, social and governance (ESG) program into an organization’s DNA contributes to its raison d’être. As ServiceNow’s ESG strategy lead, I know that setting realistic goals drives long-term impact and value, not just for investors, but for all stakeholders. We believe ESG is a journey, not a destination. We are here for the long term.
When ServiceNow launched a racial equity fund aimed at expanding opportunities for black communities, did it turn a profit? No. But investing $100 million to increase access to capital to facilitate home ownership and entrepreneurship is driving new talent acquisition and creating real, lasting impact. This is a powerful example of ServiceNow’s purpose: to make the world a better place for everyone.
As CFO, I believe in taking calculated risks and exploring new ways to achieve our business goals. By embedding purpose in our DNA, we can meet these expectations. It becomes a force multiplier, building trust and loyalty, boosting morale and improving performance. This results in greater retention, higher engagement, and long-term value creation.
For me, making the world a better place for everyone is the reason I get up in the morning. This is my ikigai. So think of purpose and profit like a cake: you can have it and eat it too. And I have to admit that I love cakes!