• Tony Miller

Pardon My Optimism

In my recent interview with branding and community building expert, Simon Dixon, he stressed the importance of Purpose as the gauge for measuring a brand 's relationship with the community. I believe his point is: If a brand is authentically committed to building community, if it truly is a priority, that purpose will be visible in their actions, experienced by stakeholders and recognized in their Brand Identity.

The progressive movement by corporations to benefit the greater good is described by a variety of labels: Social Enterprise, Stakeholder Capitalism, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), to name a few. In response to social justice reform, many companies are making statements in support of social justice and equal opportunity and also appointing Diversity Officers to the executive level or c-suite. But, how authentic and committed are our companies regarding their Purpose Statements (Vision, Mission, Core Values)?

The pandemic provides some answers. As companies were forced into survival mode, some reflexively jumped into action and prioritized the survival of society and stakeholders over profit by pivoting product manufacturing and trimming both executive and workforce compensation to avoid any or additional furloughs, for example. On the other end of the spectrum, we saw price gouging by those only concerned with their own survival. Undoubtedly, there was much in between.

In a recent McKinsey & Company survey comprising a representative sample of more than 1,000 participants from US companies, 82% affirmed the importance of purpose, but only 42% reported that their company’s stated “purpose” had much effect. According to McKinsey, “Many companies’ purpose statements are so generic that they do little to challenge business as usual, and others don’t emphasize the concerns of employees. Contributing to society and creating meaningful work, the top two priorities of employees in our survey, are the focus of just 21% and 11% of purpose statements, respectively.”

A healthy dose of skepticism may lead you to question the overall integrity of the McKinsey survey...thinking the sample set is too small or the participants aren’t being honest because they want to feel they are viewed as altruistic. But, the Deloitte 2020 Human Capital Trends Report provides additional evidence to support workers’ genuine desire for a deeper connection to purpose. Deloitte finds that many workers for companies who made the pivot and re-aligned their efforts to meet the needs and demands of a nation debilitated by Covid-19 actually benefited from the new “meaning and inspiration in their jobs,” and “want to contribute to their organizations when they understand how their unique talents, strengths, and contributions are making an impact on larger goals.”

The pandemic not only magnified the “Purpose Gap”, more importantly it also magnified the direct link between purpose and the well being of workers and community. This is the light at the end of the tunnel, the opportunity. Maybe a movement to renew and reprioritize purpose will accelerate our path toward shared ideals and developing solutions for our biggest problems like the growing income gap, environmental health, criminal and social justice, or the rising unaffordability of housing, healthcare and education? Pardon my optimism.

I’ll share a personal anecdote: I was listening to a webinar and a business owner was sharing perspective about the challenges and changes in the marketplace, due to Covid. She listed several examples of how she would react to customer attitudes, I’ll paraphrase, “If my customers want more community, then I’ll get more involved in the community.” I thought to myself that I’d love for this business owner to seriously consider that now is actually a great opportunity to lead with a new purpose for your business and how you impact your community!

So, as Simon says, let’s not rush to return everything to the way it was pre-Covid, let’s take this opportunity to reset with a purpose that acknowledges our deep connections.

Please check out these cited articles for a much more on purpose:

McKinsey & Company - Purpose: Shifting from why to how

McKinsey & Company - Demonstrating corporate purpose in the time of coronavirus

Deloitte 2020 Human Capital Trends Report

More about Simon Dixon:

Idea Engineering, The Relational Intersect

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