Opinion: Agriculture should dig deep into social purpose

By Guest Author

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



By Kerry Tucker and Teresa Siles, Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, Inc.

Mistrust of business, politics and nearly all traditional institutions is thick in the air with American consumers, particularly millennials. While social distrust is a relatively new norm, not all companies and brands are failing. Those that connect with consumers on reasons for existence beyond the mighty dollar tend to thrive -and, paradoxically, see soaring profits to boot.

These organizations - Southwest Airlines, Starbucks and Hilmar Cheese to name a few - are gaining competitive edge by defining what they stand for with values that transcend gender, demographics, politics or other factors that tend to divide rather than unite. We call them “purpose-driven” organizations. Their focus is on the end benefit they provide to people or society at large.

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While purpose-driven organizations can't be manufactured and must be rooted in authenticity, there are tools to help define an organizational purpose. In our view, there could be no better sector suited for purpose-driven planning than agriculture. After all, food - healthy and sustainable food - is the foundation not only for health and wellness, but also for allowing people and societies at large to thrive. Add to that a growing food culture, and the opportunity is ripe for purpose-driven food and agriculture organizations.

Dairy Council of California, Wholesum Harvest, Duncan Family Farms, Growers Express and Markon Cooperative are a just a few organizations in agriculture that are introducing purpose-driven plans.

All of these organizations are on a journey, tapping into their motivations and deeper reasons for their existence, or what Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer of Proctor & Gamble, calls “ideals.” It's a pathway designed to build trust and align an organization and the people it touches behind a strategic plan driven by purpose, core values and a vision for success.

“It's about linking and leveraging the behaviors of all people important to a business' future, because nothing unites and motivates people's actions as strongly as ideals,” said Stengel in “Grow.”

The business case for a purpose-driven company is not just about altruism or corporate social responsibility, and defining an organizational purpose is no touchy-feely exercise. Organizations driven by purpose (and core values) outperform the general market by 15 to 1 and competitors by 6 to 1, according to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, authors of “Built to Last.”

In California, we are in the midst of a journey to uncover the purpose of California agriculture as part of a multi-year strategic plan called Ag Vision. This month, the Ag Vision planning team will debate and come to consensus on agriculture's contribution to society. Is its purpose to fuel healthy people, a healthy environment, a healthy economy? A quick answer to the question about social purpose of agriculture often leads to some variation of “feeding the world.” While this may very well be part of agriculture's purpose, articulating it well - and communicating it -is more important than ever, given the growing propensity for distrust.

Whether fighting perceptions of “big ag,” “factory farming” or the scientific advances behind bringing food to market, digging deep into agriculture's contribution to the world at large is critical. Consumers are expecting more, and by aligning with the fundamental reasons behind a product or company's existence, and connecting with consumers and the marketplace over shared values, success can be built.

If you're not taking this shift in consumer expectations seriously, you'd better rethink. The status quo is no longer enough. We're in a new era, where organizations can no longer think solely about the benefits to owners, shareholders or supply chain stakeholders. Instead, the consumer and society at large hold the keys for what will or will not be a successful company. We've got to earn trust like no other time before … is your company ready?

Nuffer, Smith, Tucker is a strategic planning and public relations firm specializing in the food and agriculture sector.

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