How are businesses thinking about business purpose in a changing world?

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I wanted to find out if, and to what extent, Scottish businesses are purpose led. As part of this process we wanted to explore businesses’ attitudes and actions towards Net Zero and Fair work initiatives

As a user researcher working at Scottish Enterprise, I joined with my colleagues in strategy to explore this in more depth and to provide insight to help shape the organisation’s approach going forward

Working with the strategy team was a really positive and enjoyable experience. We worked very closely together to clarify the objectives and desired outcomes of the project and the strategy team were involved at every stage.

Companies and consumers both have a part to play to create more sustainable economies which help people to flourish.

Our goals

We had a number of aims for this research:

  • What do companies believe that being a “purpose oriented” business means (if anything)?
  • To find out if businesses have become more or less “purpose orientated” and if this has led them to change their approach
  •  To explore businesses’ understanding of, and attitudes towards, Net Zero and Fair Work
  • To understand what actions, if any, companies are already undertaking towards Net Zero and Fair Work
  • To learn what other steps companies are planning to take towards Net Zero and Fair Work
  • To understand what the drivers towards climate change (Net Zero) and Fair Work are
  • To understand any barriers companies find about implementing climate change and Fair Work initiatives

How we recruited

We recruited companies from the following criteria:

  • Companies from a mix of sectors and company size
  • Companies from a mix of maturity, i.e., some long establish companies and some new companies
  • Companies from a range of geographic locations

What we did

  • Conducted 3 x 1.5 hour focus groups via Teams with 5 people per session
  • Each participant had to complete a short exercise prior to the session to outline the sort of processes and practices that are currently operating in their businesses and the challenges they face
  • We invited the project team from strategy to observe the sessions and they also took notes as part of this process
  • We pulled the results together a joint analysis session with all the observers. We prepared a template  to help the project team gather their thoughts from their notes to assist at the analysis session


There were 6 main challenges facing businesses in the current environment:

  • Market uncertainty
  • Rising operating costs
  • Supply chain issues
  • Rising wage costs
  • Regulation
  • Recruiting and retaining talent

Being purpose orientated

  • This is aspirational for many businesses – companies want to be and aspire to become more responsible employers
  • Most of the companies we spoke to can pinpoint where they are on the journey towards this and can see where they would like to reach
  • People and planet are the focus for the companies but there is a realisation that in some industries there can be conflict between these aims
  • In a tight labour market, many employees are prioritising companies with an ethical standpoint
  • Being purpose oriented is seen by many as “future proofing” your business

What I have learned

  • Few people are able to connect “people and planet” and view them as separate issues.
  • The terminology of “business practice” doesn’t resonate with companies.
  • Businesses want to do the right thing but want help and encouragement. They need to know that the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • Employee pressure is driving change.
  • The aspiration of being a more responsible employer is attractive to employers.
  • Employers are much more focused on employee well-being and support as they believe that this will enable them to retain and attract good employees in a tight labour market.

4 Replies to “How are businesses thinking about business purpose in a changing world?”

  1. Lorna hi

    Thank you for sharing the findings of the research. I always think that there is another important P that we must add to the discussion when speaking about People and Planet and that P is paramount and essential for any business operations, that is PROFIT… I believe that until there is a step change in our understanding of profit (not purely financial) and the interconnection of people and planet that without all three working together on an equilibria then we will struggle to see the change we require. Its our understanding of profit and the application of that understanding to areas outside the purely financial that will effect change…

    1. Hi Thomas
      totally agree with you , it was something that was mentioned by companies as part of the balancing act

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