What you do in the dark will shine in the light.
Purpose is set in motion when values are operationalised through decisions made and actions taken even when no one is watching. What is the purpose of your company? It has the potential to serve society as a force for good. Strikingly expressed by Professor Colin Mayer, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford,
“That’s why we emphasize the existence of business as being to produce profitablesolutions for the problems of people and planet, not profiting from creating problems.”
It’s not just the academics banging away but the capitalists are in violent agreement. In his letter to CEOs this year, Larry Fink Chairman & CEO of BlackRock asserted, “Employees need to understand and connect with your purpose; and when they do, they can be your staunchest advocates. Customers want to see and hear what you stand for as they increasingly look to do business with companies that share their values. And shareholders need to understand the guiding principle driving your vision and mission. They will be more likely to support you in difficult moments if they have a clear understanding of your strategy and what is behind it.”
In a global survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, most executives believe purpose is business critical:
- 89% said collective purpose drives employee satisfaction
- 84% said it can affect business transformation
- 80% said it drives customer loyalty
Yet only 46% said purpose informs their strategic and operational decision-making. We need to shift from sporadic CSR budgets to a concerted effort that permeates the business model, from boardroom to storeroom. Let’s skill and reskill employees into system thinkers and embed purpose-led thinking across functions – from human resources to marketing to finance to innovation – so that decisions are made, supported, and rewarded consistently from the ground up.
The Covid-19 pandemic reminded us of humanity in business by putting people first. During an interview with McKinsey, Laxman Narasimhan CEO of Reckitt explained,
“As CEO, I must embody purpose. But 58% of the company are millennials and it is important that they embrace it too. I start every communication with our purpose, and we dial our decisions back to the company’s values…..We try to live that every single day. For example, we decided that our staff could use the money they had saved on travel during COVID-19 to support local organizations that fit with our purpose, and their conversations with their colleagues about the donations further reinforced the purpose.”
Purpose-driven companies will be more agile and resolute to take decisive action. In a crisis, executives have a choice to be passive, follow the pack, or lead the pack. In the last few weeks, we have seen companies & brands respond in support of Ukraine, e.g.
- Vodafone will offer free connectivity to 200,000 Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK
- Airbnb is offering temporary housing in neighboring countries to up to 100,000 Ukrainians who are fleeing their country because of the Russian invasion.
- American Express and Hilton are supporting Ukrainian refugees with donation of up to 1 million hotel room nights
- To transport refugees into Poland, the state railway operator PKP Intercity launched additional connections and announced that citizens of Ukraine can travel for free
- Wizz Air the Hungarian carrier is offering 100,000 free and subsidized seats to Ukrainian refugees to get to their final destinations
- Goya Foods will distribute hundreds of thousands of pounds of food by mobilizing products to Ukraine and Poland, where many refugees are fleeing
- Microsoft has been watching for cyberattacks and will continue to advise Ukrainian cyber defense officials and support them with their defenses
We the people have the capacity to make brave and empathetic decisions when the moment demands for it. As Rishad Tobaccowala, author of Restoring the Soul of Businessand former Publicis Groupe’s Global Chief Strategist and Growth Officer reminds us,
In the end, the purpose of a company is about a set of actions versus a set of words. Today you see purpose driven companies with smart leaders bringing their words and commitments to life. For those who do not take a stand with a set of actions, their purpose driven words will come to haunt them and hurt their brands and reputations.”