Protecting business with clear purpose
Transparency is a new goal for many businesses, winning over shareholders, employees, and the general public. When a business is open about its operations, it can earn a level of trust that it wouldn't have established otherwise. With each year, it seems businesses are expected to disclose more information, from tax records to executive salaries. Not every organization views purpose as an all-encompassing ideal. Some consider it merely a tool to advertise who they are and what they stand for to capture more market share. Others believe selling quality products at the lowest price point is the only thing that matters to consumers. While we acknowledge instances of successful companies in the market aligned with this thinking, our research shows that what separates purpose-driven businesses from the rest are longevity and authenticity. Only 7 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs believe their companies should “mainly focus on making profits and not be distracted by social goals.” And with good reason. While shareholder capitalism has catalyzed enormous progress, it also has struggled to address deeply vexing issues such as climate change and income inequality—or, looking forward, the employment implications of artificial intelligence.
A significant proportion – 43% - of business leaders say their company views organizational purpose exclusively as a marketing and brand play. These respondents are much more likely to report that purpose does not get adequate attention at their company (52% vs. 23%). This approach carries risks. In a world overflowing with options, many brands authentically leading with purpose are discovering new opportunities to deliver value to their customers and the communities in which they operate. By leading with purpose, being authentic in how they tell stories and articulate their impact, focusing on all humans, and imbibing empathy, many of these companies are outpacing their competitors and leaving an impact on everyone they touch. The organizations most frequently mentioned as purpose leaders by survey respondents demonstrate this through core business activities. Executives should move toward an active purpose strategy; it should be driven by the CEO, informed by best practice and standards, and embedded in all aspects of operations with an eye to long-term value and impact.