Growing pains: How to hold on to the start-up magic

How having a clear purpose can steer brands towards success by building employee loyalty, customer preference and wider stakeholder trust.

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Blake Mycoskie
Published: 27 Apr 2017 Updated: 13 Jun 2022

Whilst ‘purpose’ can be seen as a buzzword, most brands have seen the benefit of being guided by one, especially when it becomes central to vision and strategy.

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For growing businesses, however, the prospect of scaling up without losing the ‘magic’ that defines their ethos can seem impossible. These concerns aren’t unfounded.

Our Fit for Purpose Index shows that companies who are successful at embedding purpose into their business at large scale adhere to three key principles, no matter what their size or industry.

Purpose is clearly connected to the business

Purpose is most authentic when it is relevant to the business, but can be hard to maintain as a company grows. As this happens, brands must make sure that their business strategy evolves with them, yet remaining true to why they exist in the first place.

In six years Blake Mycoskie’s TOMS grew from a start- up to generating $300m in revenue. As the company focused on rapidly scaling up, it lost the sense of its ethos of being a business that ‘puts giving first’. Blake realised TOMS needed to get back to why that had inspired him to create the company. To do this, he made sure the next stage of business growth was aligned with the company’s mission.

As a result, TOMS was re-energised: employees reconnected with the mission and could think bigger. TOMS’ coffee business was born, and the company became a movement again.

Ongoing employee engagement

Within smaller businesses, it’s easier to make connections between day-to-day work and an overarching purpose. This is partly due to ease of communication, which is harder to maintain in large companies.

Pearson one of the top 10 rankers in our Fit For Purpose Index, holds workshops to help employees understand how their role contributes to the company’s purpose: improving lives through learning.

Ensuring purpose is evident in the business shouldn’t be limited to current employees. There is evidence that purpose plays a crucial role attracting prospective candidates.

In its recruitment process, Lloyds Banking Group articulates how new joiners can help Britain prosper. As a result, it has seen its Employee Engagement Index score increase by 11 points to 71% (UK norm: 62%).

Clear and engaged leadership

Perhaps the most important principle, particularly for start-ups looking to scale-up without losing purpose, is a clear and engaged leadership.

Don’t let passionate leadership be diluted with growth; retain visibility for teams beyond departmental silos and employee access to senior management.

Within the top 10 brands in the Fit for Purpose Index, 70% have proactive leaders who are actively engaged with their company’s purpose, championing it internally and externally. They give an example of purpose in action that employees can emulate and live everyday.

With proactive leadership and an engaged organisation, the benefits of a strategically aligned purpose are apparent. In this ‘post-truth’ society, we may come to rely on purposeful organisations to lead the way towards a better world.

To find out more about Radley Yeldar visit their website 

By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.


This article was previously published on Smith & Williamson prior to the launch of Evelyn Partners.