Combining Purpose and Profit for Business and Societal Impact

When I started in business, companies were focused almost exclusively on profit and rapid growth. Concepts like purpose, purpose-driven or “brands that take a stand” weren’t on most people’s radars, much less on corporate agendas.

With the advent of the Internet, smartphones and social media, we’re seeing and reading about the experiences, disadvantages and pains of people and communities around the globe 24/7. This awareness evokes strong emotion and loud calls for action. As a result, we’re expecting more from ourselves, our governments and the companies with whom we do business to positively impact the greater good. As the CEO of a for-profit company that was born in purpose, I lead a global staff of 600, 70% of whom sit behind prison walls. And what I’ve learned is this: you can combine purpose and profit with terrific results. And when you do, success is remarkably sweeter.

Our Evolution from All Profit to Prioritizing Purpose

The 1987 movie Wall Street’s most memorable line had Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, utter the line that many would say defined the decade: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Greed is never good, and we’ve seen time and again what happens when greed becomes a company strategy. Businesses fail; people lose their jobs; crime, homelessness and poverty increase; the economy suffers.

The mix of purpose and profit that customers are demanding from companies has been building up for some time, particularly among millennials and generation Z. It didn’t just happen, though partisanship in government, which has made it difficult to solve social issues through legislation, has certainly triggered a need for business to do more. And I’m proud to see the response with pacts like We’re Still In, business’ reaction to the United States pulling out of The Paris Accord and pledges to end plastic pollution and provide equal pay. TOMS shoes, which already does so much to help impact environment and societal issues, recently took a stand to end gun violence. Businesses stepping up for social change is happening across the globe, and I believe we have a moral obligation to lead in this area. If not us, then who? Our business knows how to turn challenges into opportunities. And we’re skilled at striking the right balance of creativity and strategy to resolve problems in both the short- and long-term. We do this every day for our customers. Imagine how much more impactful our efforts become when what we do has a ripple effect and is felt deeply within families and communities for generations.

Customer Experience (CX) Derived from Purpose & Meaning

The greatest companies deliver exceptional CX while helping to solve today’s pressing issues. And Televerde is a leader in this area. We began in 1994, operating in a way that not only delivers profit, but also has significant social impact, specifically working with incarcerated women who we hire and train for sales roles at the Perryville Prison Complex, part of the Arizona Department of Corrections, and the Indiana Department of Correction in Rockville. Over time, we’ve empowered and trained women to go beyond placing outbound calls, and they’ve advanced into departments like IT, marketing, finance and HR. At our Corporate HQ, we have people in every department and in every level of the organization who began their careers on the inside of a prison cell.

While the conversation has changed for the better on how we deal with the incarcerated, over the years we’ve had potential customers choose not to do business with us because of the stigmas attached to people in prison. But we’ve always remained true to our model; this will not change. As a customer, I came to see it as a differentiator because I witnessed how remarkably skilled, agile and knowledgeable our women are. (They also increased my former company’s win rates by 92% in one year!) Working alongside them now as their CEO, I’m continually blown away.

Over the next year, you’ll see Televerde go even deeper as it relates to our purpose and emerge as a vocal thought leader on issues like diversity & inclusion, mass incarceration, recidivism, drug addiction and other problems that face disempowered communities.

For example, as part of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, we’ll work to bring fair chance hiring into the diversity conversation. Managing diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the global workplace should be a priority for every company and many are making progress delivering opportunity and advancement to women, people of color, the disabled, veterans, the LGBTQ community, et cetera. But people with criminal backgrounds need to become a group within the D&I conversation. In fact, a 2010 study estimates that there are 19 million people who have a felony record. We need to start seeing these individuals not as former convicts but as part of the broader talent pool.

We recently became a member of the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC), a global network of businesses dedicated to creating a market for inclusive employment by raising awareness of Impact Sourcing. Working as a GISC member means we can connect with other companies focused on Impact Sourcing to create more jobs for a vast talent pool that is currently being overlooked in many ways.

We’ve also aligned with Conscious Capitalism, Inc., the nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating humanity through business. The president of Conscious Capitalism’s Arizona chapter recently visited our Perryville contact centers and described Televerde as the best example of conscious capitalism he’s seen.

Purpose is contagious. As a company, when you lead with it, it catches on like fire and inspires your entire organization. This produces extraordinary results for customers but in a way that has profound societal impact. It’s especially meaningful, and it creates an environment in which people want to come to work every day. And that creates a domino effect where CX goes through the roof, customer loyalty strengthens and profit soars. Everyone wins and the world is better for it.

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