The idea of purpose has received a lot of attention. A company with a clear and compelling purpose, to help social causes or to make a positive impact on the world, is attractive to customers as well as talent. In this episode, I talk to Scott Morris, a Real Estate broker who has incorporated social purpose into his business model. It’s a purpose driven by a story about his son.
In today’s episode we’re going to focus on purpose. Specifically on incorporating purpose into business.
This is a topic that’s received a lot of attention in the last few years. Studies have shown that consumers prefer to do business with companies that are socially responsible, or that show a dedication to a larger purpose beyond selling their products & services.
Similarly, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review asserted that employees will often work for less money if they have a sense of purpose at work.
So it’s clear that purpose is important. But what does that mean? How can you incorporate it into your business or organization? And what role does storytelling play?
To answer that, I spoke with Scott Morris. Scott runs SRM Real Estate Group, a Real Estate and mortgage brokerage in Los Angeles. For 30 years, he ran his business the way you’d expect a Real Estate business to run.
But recently, he decided to change his business model
Scott Morris: We’re a full service boutique residential real estate brokerage, a with a social purpose and it hasn't always been this way. I've been doing this for just over 30 years and it was just earlier this year that I, after a great deal of thought, I decided to transform my business model to include social purpose.
Scott is a passionate advocate for juvenile diabetes research – more on that later. That passion drove him to incorporate supporting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation into his business model.
The model is pretty simple.
Scott: So the way the model works is with every client that we work with, whether they're buying and financing home or selling a home, we donate a portion of our commission to JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. And, um, uh, and, and that's because that's my passion. That's my family's story.
As he started to do that, Scott noticed something. It seems obvious, but he noticed that his clients weren’t necessarily as passionate about juvenile diabetes research as he was. But they did, more often than not, have other causes that they cared about.
Or sometimes they didn’t have a specific cause or charity that they supported, but they were passionate about an issue.
Scott: Initially when I was first contemplating building social purpose into my business model, it was, it was going to be all about JDRF in type one diabetes advocacy. But then I decided that I wanted to also bring my clients, get my clients more involved in and bring them into the story because what I realized is that although my passion was around type one diabetes advocacy, many of my clients had similar passions around other charities or other causes. And so additionally, from, from our commissions, we make a donation to the charity or cause that our clients are passionate about.
So what Scott did is he found community nonprofits that were doing good work in the communities where he operated. In the course of working with his clients, he introduced these charities to his clients and allowed them to choose one they would like to support. That gave his clients a means of supporting a purpose that held meaning for them.
Scott believes this approach, though he’s really just getting started, is something that will really set him apart from other Real Estate agents in his area. But that’s not his motivation. Not his primary one, anyway.
To Scott, this is more than just a marketing campaign.
Scott: I didn't just wake up one day and say, okay, this is a, this is a good idea. I should do this. I thought about this for a long time. And again, I was kind of, there are some events that happen in my life that kind of put me on this path and, and what's happening with my business and this business model is really an evolution of those things.
Scott Morris didn’t just wake up one day, decide to incorporate social purpose into his business, and randomly chose Juvenile Diabetes Research as the cause to support. You could say that juvenile diabetes chose him.
Or more accurately, it chose his son.
Scott: My son was diagnosed with type one diabetes in 2011 and we are one of those families that we didn't know a thing about type one diabetes. And I mistakenly thought that type one diabetes is no big deal. It meant that you probably shouldn't be eating sugars or sweets, but quickly learned that it's so much more than that. There were signs as there always are leading up to my son's diagnosis and it's usually, you know, fatigue, unquenchable thirst and frequent urination.
And so when this was happening, my son's an athlete, he's a, he's a baseball player. And in addition to school he was playing on his club baseball. He was playing football for his middle school at the time and basically after a long day of school, he was out in the hot weather, two, three hours, almost every day practicing with his sports. And so my wife, bless her, my wife knew something was wrong and I was protesting the entire time, you know, she would say something's wrong. And I had an excuse for, for all of her concerns. I said, of course, you know, he's, he's tired, he's fatigue is working hard. And of course he has this unquenchable thirst and he's drinking all the time. He's, you know, he's out there practicing in the hot weather and, and, and my wife would have none of it.
And she insisted he go to his pediatrician. So we took him to the pediatrician and our pediatrician diagnosed him in five minutes. And I'll tell you, that made me protest even more because, I'm thinking, don't you have to run a series of tests, they have to go off to a lab, you know, you wait a few days, you get the results back from the lab? And the pediatrician told us that he had type one diabetes. And I'm sitting there and thinking what do we do here and how do we solve this problem? And the pediatrician says he needs to go to children's hospital. So that's kind of like a body blow, but I'm still not getting it. And I said, okay, well how soon do you think they can see him? And you know, we're in town and let's, let's set that up. And he says, you know, you don't get it. You're going right now.
So that was tough. So we go to children's hospital and we're in the emergency room and I'm still optimistic and thinking, okay, they're just gonna this happen too quickly. The diagnosis is too quick, the emergency room physicians, they'll run more tests and um, we're going to figure it out that everything's okay. I mean, I have this healthy son, he's a great athlete and I'm thinking there's, there's nothing, there's nothing wrong here. And we were sitting in the emergency room and Ryan was asked to change into a hospital gown and my wife and I are in the room and he's changing into the gown and our chins hit the floor. Ryan was skin and bones. He's lean to begin with, but you could see his rib cage protruding.
It looked like he had lost 20 pounds overnight. And it was in that moment that I knew that something was wrong and that, that all the protests that I had had, all the excuses I had, it was, this was something I just couldn't explain away. Ryan's and athlete, he's a teenage boy, eats like a horse, and he's supposed to building muscle, gaining weight. And, and this, this was something I couldn't explain. My wife looked at me in that moment and she later told me she saw the color leaving my face. And, and in that day, in that emergency room, I made two promises and I think any parent would.
And, and the promises I made were that I would do whatever I could to help Ryan get better. And of course what parent wouldn’t. But I felt so helpless in that moment. And the other promise I made is that I would never allow myself to feel that helpless again. And so those two promises are, or what sent me, you know, to get to get involved in and, and become a type one diabetes advocate. And that's how I got involved with JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Scott’s drive to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is based on his experience with his son. It led him to dive in head first, supporting the organization in every way he knew how.
It also awakened in him a desire to make sure that he made the most of his time on this earth, to make as much of a positive impact as he could.
That’s all nice, but when it comes to incorporating purpose into your business, it can get a little trickier. Especially if your business wasn’t built on that purpose in the first place.
Scott has incorporated social purpose into his business. But it’s still a business. He still needs to do his job well, provide value to his clients, and generate a profit.
He said that’s still the foundation of his work.
Scott: I’ve got to be able to show my clients that I'm the right person for the job to help them meet their unique goals. It always begins there. It’s basic business fundamentals in my mind. I don't care what industry you're in, what business that you have it, the fundamentals are you need to be solving a problem with your product or your service, whatever business you're in, it needs to solve a problem that your customer has or some sort of pain point that they have.
And then you need to be able to do it at a fair price. Then and only then do you have a sustainable business model. If you're not solving a problem or if you are solving a problem, but you're not doing it at a fair price, sooner or later the customer is going to figure it out and your model is not sustainable. So first and foremost. What’s the business we’re in? Are we adding massive value to our clients around helping them solve that problem, and are we doing it at a fair price?
But by layering his Juvenile Diabetes Research advocacy on top of his business, and by helping his clients to support causes that are important to them, he’s adding another layer of value to his clients.
And more importantly, he feels that the work he’s doing has greater meaning. It matters more.
Scott: I'm advocating on behalf of my son. I'm advocating on behalf of the type one diabetes community, but I'm also doing it in a way that again, brings, the people that I work with on a daily basis. I get to tell that story. I get to get out and talk about what I'm trying to do and I'm talking about my clients and their stories and their passions. I feel like my relationships with my clients are better than they've ever been. And importantly, I'm a firm believer that in the end, whether we recognize it or not were we all want the same thing. We all want to feel like our life mattered. And I believe that the way our lives matter is, did we make a difference in other people's lives? Did we positively impact others? Not just our nuclear families, our spouses, our partners, our children, but, who else did we positively impact?
Building social purpose or support for a cause into your business is not always easy. A lot of companies might recognize the importance of doing this, and maybe have already started.
Scott offers some advice for how companies can do it successfully, and not be seen as self-serving.
Scott: There's a lot of causes. There's a lot of problems that we have that, that needed to be addressed. Pick the one that you're passionate about. Pick the one that will get you excited to jump out of bed every day and say, I'm going to be working in this area or on this and, and, and it'll be different for everyone, but you have to be authentic. It has to be the story that you're out there willing to tell. The advice I would give is you also have to be vulnerable. You can't hold back. You've got to tell that story. You've got to tell people why. You know, why you're passionate around that, around that cause. I think that's the best advice I could give.
For any company that wants to build more purpose into their business, it has to be based on a story.
For Scott, it was the story of his son getting sick and what his family went through to come to grips with it. Scott embraced that story and lets it permeate his work.
He still focuses on being the best Real Estate broker he can be, but he is unafraid to tell his story and show why he’s so passionate about what he does. And that passion rubs off on his clients, and it will be, I firmly believe, a driving reason behind why future clients choose to work with him.
But Scott’s just a one-man show. How can this approach translate to larger organizations and big corporations?
Well, I think it again goes back to the stories. In the case of Scott, it’s the story that shaped him as the founder and sole proprietor. For larger companies those stories might not exist, but there are most certainly stories that have shaped the company’s employees and customers.
Stories that bind those groups together, and that point to causes or issues that are important to the people who are important to your company.
Whether your organization is already supporting a cause, or looking for a new cause to support, what you should look for is the stories behind them, and let them drive your approach for supporting your cause.
And tell the stories. They show the outside world why you support the initiatives you do, and that you’re authentic in your approach. Stories show the world why a cause is important to you.
When it comes to incorporating purpose into your business, stories are the most important tools you have. They not only help you communicate to your customers and audiences, which in turn helps to set you apart and build your reputation, but they are the driving force behind your purpose. They help drive your company’s actions, and they reinforce your company purpose to everyone who knows you.