Credit: Dave Krugman

Over the last few years, companies have repeatedly been told that they need a purpose, a reason for existing beyond making money. In fact, the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company have both proclaimed it the key to 21st century success. We’ve seen articles with headlines like Will Brands Without Social Purpose Thrive? and How Marketers Can Connect Profit and Purpose, and read about the diminishing life expectancies of companies which don’t embrace cultural values as much as they do financial ones.

Even the esteemed Business Roundtable – whose members are the CEOs of major US companies – issued a new, more “woke” Statement of Purpose of the Corporation in August. (It was clearly a rejoinder to economist Milton Friedman’s often quoted line “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to increase its profits”).

So, can companies can afford to turn their backs on the notion of purpose? Kit Krugman, Head of Organization and Culture Design at creative consultancy co:collective, believes they can’t. She’s an expert in organizational psychology and change leadership, and her focus is on helping businesses link purpose to practice, with the aim of designing organizations that are more inclusive and innovative. And although she’s not the only one who thinks it imperative that companies marry the value they create and the value they demonstrate, she believes it’s important for way more than the bottom line.

“The time for unconscious capitalism is over. It’s time for organizations to step up as ethical leaders, to represent the communities they serve, and to drive positive impact for all of their stakeholders, including the environment”, she said. 

Positive impact? Isn’t that what CSR departments are for? Not according to Krugman: “Purpose is not CSR. It’s actually anti-CSR. Too often, CSR serves as a band-aid to offset an oversize carbon footprint instead of genuine integration into business practices to drive long-term positive impact.”

She’s intent upon re-framing the way companies think about doing the right thing, and, more impressively, she knows how. She’s spent her career teaching people how to turn their beliefs into behaviors and studying how those behaviors are repeated and rewarded.

For 10 years, she’s worked with educational institutions, creative and design agencies and digital publishing organizations, as well as with LinkedIn, Microsoft, and IBM. And She was also involved in transformational Future of Work initiatives. But the future, as they say, is now, and Krugman’s focus at co:collective is designing for a new employee demographic: millennials and Gen Z. Krugman and her team believe that what they want as consumers, and what they want as employees, are symbiotically connected, and they’re not wrong: A 2018 PwC report called The Workforce of the Future survey found that 88% of all millennials want to work for a company whose values reflect their own.

Krugman’s goal for co:collective’s new Organization and Culture Design practice is to teach businesses how to attract talent – from the millennial pool and beyond – and to build a culture which ensures that they innovate and embed purpose in everything they do.

The idea is to focus clients’ minds on creating organizational integrity, and to partner with them in becoming purpose-led and action-oriented at the same time. To do this, co:collective intends to emphasize leadership development as well as to provide coaching as a means of developing and fostering a culture of innovation.

The agency wants to get its clients – currently an impressive list that includes Google, IBM, Puma, MetLife and MoMA – to identify their larger stories, and turn them into action. They call this a quest, or a purpose which transcends commercial value. According to Krugman, helping organizations align around their quest means helping them figure out how to think about identity differently.

But Krugman’s not just about helping companies to change; she helps individuals too. As Global Executive Director of the non-profit Women in Innovation, she works with members to expose and redress things like how we pave pathways for women in leadership, how we manage parental leave, and the casual sexism and gender dynamics of the workplace.

She believes that women redesigning organizations is an act of innovation in itself, because traditionally, it’s been men who control industry. And she sees this innovation as a service, a way to bring purpose into the work culture, something which seems to dovetail perfectly with her new mission at co:collective.

Krugman doesn’t ignore her own need for purpose either. She trained as a yoga teacher, in part, to help others redesign and reprogram their own behavior. It’s clearly not about blaming and shaming corporations into doing the right thing. “Purpose”, she insists, “begins at an individual level, too”.