Has there ever been a more important time to revisit the idea of Purpose and the role it plays (or should play) in strategic planning? 

We were living in a disruptive and transformative world before the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything in our lives. In that pre-COVID world, humans were anxious about losing their jobs to digital disruption; and trust in governments, politicians, corporations and the media had reached all-time lows. In response to this dynamic, people (younger generations especially) are actively seeking ways to live more meaningful lives. This trend will only accelerate post-COVID.

So, as business leaders, how do we evolve our strategic vision to meet that need? 

Purpose is more than a buzzword. I firmly believe that a purpose-driven business can be both successful and profitable. And that you can create positive and impactful change in the world through the power of business. That’s why when I founded my company, I made it a B-corporation, which is a purpose-driven social impact organization. We’re not structured as a nonprofit by design. 

The idea is that business can drive equality as a business imperative, not as a nice “to do”, not as a warm fuzzy, but as a major contributor to the bottom line. 

The COVID-19 crisis has brought a lot of focus onto the human side of organizations. The idea that everything is perfect on a webcast is no longer accurate, it’s no longer possible to separate work from home life. 

I recently spoke with Jeff Stier from our member firm EY and Beth Brooke-Marciniak on my weekly show, Leadership Lounge, about the power of purpose and why it’s now more important than ever. 

Jeff leads EY’s Purpose + Vision Realized (PVR) practice helping organizations embed purpose and vision to accelerate innovation. Beth was the Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at EY, she sits on the board of the US Olympics team (full disclosure, Beth also sits on the advisory board of Out Leadership).

The most interesting and vital part of the conversation was our discussion around the challenge facing smaller companies and small business owners during this unprecedented crisis. I wanted to share the two thoughts from Beth and Jeff that stood out to me and gave me a lot of hope! 

“Do what you can to help others, do what you can and no one should judge the actions of others when they are well motivated toward trying to help others, whether they’re huge actions or small actions, right now, our responsibility is to do what we can.” Beth Brooke-Marciniak 

“As long as you’re doing something within your means, it is no one else’s point to judge unless you can look inside and understand what those means are and what you’ve given up to make that happen. So every single person and every single organization can act, according to their means. And no one should feel guilty that what they’re doing doesn’t measure up to what the bigger corporations are doing or what some individuals who have more are able to do.” Jeff Stier

If you’re interested in learning more, you can watch the full episode here

Here’s what Jeff and Beth had to say about Purpose.

  • Purpose is not just about social impact, it’s about human impact. 
  • A purpose lead organization is about having impact on your employees, on your customers, on your shareholders, on the communities in which you operate and on the environment, because the environment is intimately tied to the way humans live.
  • Purpose is at the center of a long-term value conversation about sustainable impact – the positive impact of humans. 
  • The other side to purpose is vision. You can’t have one without the other. If purpose is the way you come to work on a daily basis, vision is why you’re doing the work you’re doing. EY’s purpose is to build a better Working World (building a better Working World) and the vision is “what world are you going to build”? 
  • Many organizations (their people and their customers) are wondering what’s going to happen post-COVID? Where are we going? What’s life going to be like? There’s a lot of a disconnection, isolation and a lot of stress not knowing whether you’re going to have a job, whether you’re going to be able to financially afford your way of life, whether you’re going to be included as you were before. 

To wrap up, the political dysfunction we’re seeing all around us (especially in the US) can be overwhelming at times but then when you see companies like GM, retooling to make ventilators (and, this was happening before that Executive Order), or you see pharmaceutical companies, Gilead and Pfizer pivot enormous resources to focus on COVID-19 treatments, this is where we’re seeing true, purposeful leadership. 

This isn’t a popular perspective to have today but nothing I’ve seen during COVID has changed my mind. Corporations can change the world in so many positive ways. At Out Leadership we’ve seen examples of that first hand, from the widespread corporate support for marriage equality, the business statement in support of transgender equality, to the rejection by businesses of the infamous bathroom (HB2) Bill in North Carolina. 

To go back to the beginning, purpose is about human impact. Put humans (i.e. your families, your employees, their families) at the center of what you do. As Jeff mentioned, “We are one big human family. We just are. Business and money and politics get the way of us remembering that. COVID-19 is a good reminder of this. If you treat your employees, the communities that you touch, your shareholders, your customers, as family, we can all become great leaders.”