BY Paloma Vidgen Head of the Women Entrepreneurs Segment Strategy

Apr 19th 2023

Financial PerspectivesWomen In Business

5 Keys to Launching a Purpose-Driven Initiative

Apr 19th 2023

Purpose drives Tameka Montgomery.

The former head of the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development is passionate when she says, “We should be thinking about how we can positively impact the community, environment, and society.”

Now, as the CEO of Core Strategy Partners, Montgomery works with entrepreneurs to find and execute purpose-driven company initiatives. Her goal? Help entrepreneurs live their purpose through their businesses.

A purpose-driven company initiative is one that supports a cause outside of the company’s direct revenue stream, with the goal of helping the community. Well-executed initiates can lead to higher employee engagement, differentiate your product, and even help your business succeed by connecting you with customers sharing the same passion.

I spoke with Montgomery during a Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center event. She offered five keys to creating a lasting, impactful, purpose-driven company initiative.

  1. Align Your Passions with the Problem

    “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution,” Montgomery says.

    Business leaders will spend a lot of time focused on whatever challenge they seek to address. That’s why the challenges need to be ones that inspire passion, so they don’t tire of the cause, and so they can clearly articulate the impact and meaning to staff. They’ll need to follow the leader, and they can’t do that with half-hearted messages.

    An example might be a sports apparel company that believes in helping the planet by reducing its carbon footprint, or the leader of a service agency who wants to support diversity in the workplace. Notice also that those are big-picture goals—set those first. Then, go deep into that problem, before deciding if, say, biodegradable packing peanuts or a mentorship program are the best way to address them.

    “Don’t rush to a solution,” Montgomery says. No one can solve what they don’t first understand.

  2. Stay Curious About Solutions

    Trouble comes when business owners leap directly to applying fixes without researching the entire range of potential solutions, particularly if the challenge is one the business owner hasn’t personally experienced, from gender pay equity to supporting local marginalized communities.

    “Particularly if it’s not our lived experience, that can cause us to make some really harmful mistakes unintentionally,” Montgomery says.

To avoid those potentially harmful missteps, Montgomery suggests talking to people who are actively working on challenges. Instead of struggling to come up with your own fixes, stay curious and open while speaking with experts in the field.

“Sometimes, as leaders we feel like, ‘Oh, I have to come up with the solution. I have to come up with the answer.’ No, you don’t have to come up with the answer. If you talk to people, they’ll begin to tell you what’s really needed.”

Based on that feedback, Montgomery suggests business owners consider how their company and resources align with the solutions they’ve learned about. What makes sense for you, as a leader?

“Then you can begin to see the connections to your business and how your business can engage,” she says.

  1. Start with Small Goals

    Setting actionable goals is crucial with any business initiative, and purpose-driven ones are no different.

    That means setting goals your company and employees can meet. Success builds success. Your company will learn from every new project, and every learning will help increase your impact on the next project.

    Setting goals that are unachievable—or unmeasurable—risks frustrating employees, overwhelming yourself, and not helping anyone.

    To paraphrase Montgomery: You can’t save the world in a single quarter. A single-day, company-wide volunteer action could be a great way to start. Incremental steps that build over time create a more sustainable runway, while demonstrating a commitment that proves authenticity.

    “We want that long-term investment,” Montgomery says.

  1. Drive Employee Engagement with Early Buy-In

    Pronouncements from the boss’s office can come across as a pet project, forced from the top down as just another new job requirement.

    Projects aren’t sustainable company-wide without buy-in. When employees feel heard during the development of an initiative, they’re more likely to feel a personal stake in helping it succeed.

    Mongomery says this could look like creating a working group to get employees involved with the initiative. Or it could be as simple as reaching out and talking to individual employees to get, as she puts it, ” the lay of the land.” Find out who supports the idea and who has objections. Then business owners can have honest conversations to help alleviate concerns and gather feedback.

    It’s not about promoting an issue, she says. It’s about having a conversation—and then explaining how the company as a whole can affect change.

  2. Leverage the Impact of Purpose

    Creating a truly purpose-driven effort that feels authentic and deep has payoffs for the business as well as society. Studies show that employee engagement rises when workers feel their company cares about them and their community.

    “Especially in this generation of young people, they want to work for companies where they can also live out their purpose and their passion,” Montgomery says. “When we communicate, as business owners, our passion and our purpose and our vision and our business, that gets employees excited.”

Business owners can do more than sit back and enjoy the benefits of purpose-driven initiatives. As leaders use their business to change the world, a deep dive into community, purpose, and goals might uncover new markets, potential, and goals for the company—a true win-win.

“What ends up happening,” says Montgomery, is that the success of your initiative “can cause you to change your business practices. It can cause you to change your services or your products to bring new services and products to better align with that purpose.”

Through incremental, strategic steps, your business could even evolve from one with a purpose-driven initiative to a full-on purpose-driven company or social enterprise—which comes with its own set of business advantages.

For more insights from entrepreneurial leaders like Montgomery, check out upcoming events in our Women in Business series with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center here.

Author image

Paloma Vidgen Head of the Women Entrepreneurs Segment Strategy Bank of the West

As the daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs, Paloma is passionate about helping business owners scale their enterprises. At Bank of the West, she leads the Women Entrepreneurs strategy, which includes building partnerships and programs that help entrepreneurial communities succeed.

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