Reimagining business performance beyond profit for a strategic advantage

16.02.2021
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Comms Dealer magazine invited 9 Group to explore how forward thinking channel organisations that adopt a broader outlook on performance metrics will thrive on the foundations of their greater purpose.

There is a trend to reinvent business by pursuing purpose as well as profit – to what extent do you consider the impact of your decisions on staff, customers, suppliers, the community and the environment? 

Profit over purpose is a conventional approach, which has driven the focus of most businesses for decades. Business schools have historically led with lessons on how to achieve profit maximisation and success is often determined by the bottom line alone.

As an entrepreneurial business, 9 has always had the freedom and the drive to combine profit and purpose. We’ve always been a people first organisation and that’s evident in the way we operate day to day, right down to our relationships with our Partners.

One of our greatest strengths is that we recognise the power of inclusion and we don’t shy away from change. Our teams have a voice and we support them to back meaningful causes and to affect real change within our organisation, the channel and society as a whole. This includes our regular charitable initiatives, shaping more inclusive and progressive internal policies and initiating societal change on a larger scale.

We’re immensely proud to have pioneered the discussion around diversity in the channel and feel that by raising awareness of the lack of inclusivity, we’ve made a tangible impact and inspired others to join the discussion. The time and effort we placed on this initiative was not driven by profit, but through a genuine desire to do the right thing and to make a positive change.

Do you currently have, or will you be implementing, processes that enhance social responsibility and environmental care? If so, what is the nature of these initiatives and how will you monitor and measure progress?

Measures of success reach far beyond financial results. Factors such as how well run the business is, the environmental footprint and approach to diversity are indicators of how sustainable a business is and can provide an indication around whether or not that organisation will provide strong, long-term returns. We’ve woven this approach into our own processes and our measures for success for many years. Topics around social responsibility form part of our leadership discussions each and every month as well as our regular communications to staff.

This year, more than ever, a human approach has been critical to the success of UK businesses. The impact of COVID has been widespread and has affected us all in ways we could never have predicted. We’ve adapted our policies to fit with the ever-changing background of the pandemic.

We’ve taken a very careful approach to communication with our teams and our Partners, with an eye on mental health and wellbeing. We found that during lockdown we needed to dial up our communications to ensure that our teams and Partners felt included and supported.

We’ve also encouraged our colleagues to do their bit to support their local community, by launching a charity initiative with Age UK. Staff were encouraged to give their time to speak with an elderly person in their area who may be suffering with loneliness. This allowed us to give something back to society and to create an environment where open discussion about mental health is encouraged, so nobody suffers in silence.

As well as ensuring that our own policies focus on 9’s social responsibility, we hold regular consultations with our Partners around the support and advice we can offer their business. The topic of recruitment comes up repeatedly – many Partners struggle to recruit and seek help with advertising to potential candidates. During these conversations we are always keen to highlight the benefit of purpose over profit, sharing our positive experiences around diversity and how making small changes can attract a broader and richer collection of candidates. It’s rewarding to be helping to introduce change like this on a wider scale.

What is the key to being a successful and profitable ‘purposeful’ company without compromising on values in the alignment of business growth, staff, social and environmental sustainability goals?

We don’t believe that it’s a case of profit vs purpose – the two aren’t mutually exclusive. If both aspects are delivered well, they become one in the same. Combine profit and purpose and you can do good, while growing your business.

By shaping your values around a genuine aspiration to make a positive contribution to the world, you’ll naturally attract good people who share your vision. These people will inspire your teams and can affect real change within your organisation and more widely, while helping you to achieve your business goals.

The key is that this shouldn’t just be a token effort. Give your teams sincere freedom to support causes that matter; box ticking doesn’t work when culture and ethics are in play. Enable your leadership team to introduce changes that reflect today’s world and encourage your people to be more conscious – even small changes can make a difference and should be celebrated. Have an open mind and accept that things rarely stand still and younger generations can provide a welcome perspective on what matters.

To what extent will staying true to your values and wider purpose be a challenge and an opportunity during this time of market transformation and commercial pressure?

We haven’t had an ‘ethical revolution’ as such – a balanced approach to profit and purpose has always been at 9’s core. Our inclusive culture has always been one of our greatest strengths. We believe that this places us in an excellent position to face the changes ahead, and to support our Partners to succeed.

While we’re confident in our approach, we’re conscious that the world around us is changing all the time – 2020 certainly proved that to be true. An agile approach and a communicative nature allows us to stay close to what matters, and to identify ways in which we can really help and support our colleagues and our Partners.

Profit is binary and therefore straightforward to measure, whereas purpose is more ambiguous, making it a challenge to incorporate into KPIs. This shouldn’t be a barrier. While it can be tough to report on these factors, by taking small steps to become a more socially conscious company the benefits quickly become evident.

By maintaining our ‘people first’ approach and nurturing positive, genuine relationships with our Partners, suppliers and industry peers, we feel well placed to achieve our goals and to help make a real difference.

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