Legacy and purpose Article icon


David King, group marketing director of Living Group, considers the importance of purpose

When CorpComms Magazine asked me to write a piece for its forthcoming 100th anniversary edition, I scratched my head thinking what we should write about. The importance of brand in financial and professional services? The impact of digital disruption; audience centricity, or effective customer engagement? Okay, they’re all interesting subjects in their own right, but for an anniversary edition? Not sure.

Then at a recent event, another celebration of achievement, I was reminded about the importance of purpose and legacy – how a purpose in life shapes what we do, how successful we are and what we can gain. And how what we do now impacts what we leave behind for future generations, both as businesses and individually. It started me thinking.

The occasion was a wonderfully indulgent private visit to the Tower of London where I was given a fascinating history lesson on the people and events that have shaped the Tower into the landmark and monument that it is today.

Could we ever imagine London without it? The significance of the Tower and the people – the Yeoman Warders themselves – who have shaped its past and help it function today, is that they provide London with an unbroken chain of history, a wealth of observed knowledge, facts and stories reaching back through generations and being passed down into the present day. It provides a legacy of knowledge and experience that helps shape our understanding of not only the City of London but the United Kingdom itself.

The Yeoman Warders, all ex-servicemen, use their unique position to support and enrich the life of Londoners, and in particular to provide charitable support to the local communities (surprisingly some of the most deprived areas in London) around the Tower. They ensure that the legacy of the Tower continues to be a focal point for Londoners, and maintains a strong purpose in daily life.

However, while I sense that most business leaders and individuals would agree that legacy and purpose are attributes well worth considering, defining them may be harder.

Think about it. What is your purpose? What legacy do you want to leave? How do you want your business to be remembered? Increasingly we are seeing organisations wake up to the need to have, and to demonstrate, purpose.

Generations of millennials who are eager to find meaning and purpose in their lives and their work are influencing companies to integrate purpose into engagement and commercial strategies.

Companies such as PwC, Unilever, CocaCola, PepsiCo, IBM, and EY are working hard to defi ne and communicate purpose in order to attract new customers and new talent. Everybody at some point in their lives thinks about what they are going to leave behind for future generations.

Bill Gates, who famously said that he didn’t want to leave a legacy, will undoubtedly be remembered as much for his foundation, using his wealth, knowledge and influence to save lives, as he will for being the founder of Microsoft.

Yet we don’t have to be billionaires or big businesses to leave a legacy. Legacy doesn’t need to be financial or material. Like the stories told by the Yeoman Warders, the memories and the experiences we create for others are equally as important. There are lots of guides and views on creating purpose or legacy – I’ve read lots over the last few weeks.

There are a few stand out points that stick with me:

• As a business, consider your purpose – why are you in existence? How does this purpose impact on others? Use this purpose to inform your decision making, shape your communications and your interaction with your stakeholders.

• As an individual, follow your passion. After all, we all have it but it’s not always refl ected in the jobs we do. If you want to do something diff erent, take a chance, choose another path – if you don’t you may regret it later. And, by doing so, you can then share your passion and enrich those around you.

• Respect others. Be nice. Why do people waste so much energy in being horrible to others? It is exhausting, destructive and who benefi ts? In the long term, will I remember the person who was disrespectful or horrible to me, or the one that wasn’t?

• Show your appreciation. Tell those around you how much they mean to you. Tell your family and your colleagues, just watch their reaction. There is nothing like positive appreciation. But make sure it is done with sincerity.

• Believe in the greater good. No matter how small the gesture, it all adds up. If we all changed our lives, opinions, approaches and relationships just a little, imagine what we could achieve.

• Don’t keep it to yourself: share. Not just material things, share your stories, your experiences, your knowledge.

Over the past decade we have seen considerable change in our lifestyles. Political, environmental and economic upheaval is re-shaping our values, our relationships and our fundamental belief systems.

The impact of technology is making communications easier and faster but is also increasing transparency – meaning that what we say and do is now scrutinised far more than ever before. Increasingly we are being asked to truly consider the impact we are making and the future we are creating for those around us.

History tells us that people with a strong purpose in life tend to be those that do better and succeed. It’s never too early or late to start working on your legacy, the things and memories you want to survive you.

Who knows what the next ten years will bring? But by considering our purpose in life and our legacy we might just make it better. After all there’s an old Greek proverb which says: ...a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in...

Perhaps we should start by planting a few trees.