5 mins

Purpose: Shifting from why to how

By Steve Cook

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As I referenced in a recent post, purpose seems to be one of the most talked about aspects of organisational strategy at present.

This is no surprise to me as purpose, within wider strategic contexts, has been debated, re-imagined and evolved for some years and this has accelerated recently, for obvious reasons. That said, I am a practitioner in these areas, so accept that I gravitate to these deep and wide ranging subjects/debates more than many.

What does surprise me is the narrowness of discourse about the role and value of purpose coming from some quarters.

Whether an advocate, neutral or sceptic, I think purpose, as it is now being considered, should be explored to the fullest and widest before conclusions are drawn.

With this in mind, I share this piece from McKinseys as, in my opinion, it is a pretty good overview.

by McKinsey

Only 7 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs believe their companies should “mainly focus on making profits and not be distracted by social goals.”1 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. But where do we go from here? How do we deliver a sense of purpose across a wide range of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priorities? Doing so means moving from business as usual to a less traveled path that may feel like “painting outside the lines.” Are we going too far beyond our core mandate? Does it mean we’ll lose focus on bottom-line results? Will transparency expose painful tensions better left unexamined? Will our boards, management teams, employees, and stakeholders want to follow us, or will they think we have “lost the plot”? There are no easy answers to these questions; corporate engagement is messy, and pitfalls, including criticism from skeptical stakeholders, abound.

Yet when companies fully leverage their scale to benefit society, the impact can be extraordinary. The power of purpose is evident as the world fights the urgent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a number of companies doubling down on their purpose, at the very time stakeholders need it the most (for more, see “Demonstrating corporate purpose in the time of coronavirus”). Business also has an opportunity, and an obligation, to engage on the urgent needs of our planet, where waiting for governments and nongovernmental organizations to act on their own through traditional means such as regulation and community engagement carries risk (for more, see “Confronting climate risk”).

Fortunately, a “how to” playbook is starting to emerge as a growing number of companies lead. In this article, we try to distill some inspiring steps taken by forward-looking companies. In doing so, we don’t pretend to have all the answers. What we present here is some early thinking about the road ahead from our research and engagement with clients around the world. We hope this will help you wherever you are on your journey.

Read the full article by Mckinsey

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