Businesses around the world are emerging from the deepest recession since the Second World War, so their leaders need to be prepared for recovery. Savvy executives will have a comprehensive understanding of their organisational purpose and its role in helping the business back to recovery. “A clear purpose helped many businesses to make it through the impact of COVID-19 last year. It gave them a North Star and a framework for making decisions; decisions they weren’t expecting to face,” says Dr Scarlett E. Brown, policy consultant with the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). In short, organisational purpose is a company’s raison d’être. Tiffany Downs, partner at US Ius Laboris firm, FordHarrison explains: “When organisational purpose was initially discussed, it was more about the mission and the values of the company and an economic framework.
“Over time this has evolved to companies asking themselves what they are doing to make a difference and how they are contributing to their community and society, and so it’s evolved to more of a social purpose.” Young people entering the workforce are helping to drive this new definition by demanding that work has a purpose and enables them to feel like they’re making a difference to society, she adds.
Kaisa Aalto-Luoto, vice president of human resources services at Finland based minerals processing technology service provider Metso Outotec, agrees. “I think organisational purpose is the reason why a company exists beyond making money for their stakeholders and owners,” she says. “Our mission is to enable a modern, sustainable life, so that goes hand in hand with our purpose; being there for the sustainable business. It really is something that unites employees and it also engages people.”
It is this engagement that is key to enabling business leaders to secure employee and customer buy-in for the business transformation programmes they require to survive and thrive in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Aalto-Luoto believes that a less traditional office set-up, including working from home arrangements and fewer faceto-face meetings, constitutes the “New Normal”, at least for now, hence the importance of organisational purpose. “Having a strong purpose when you come to work, whether in an office or wherever that is, every day and doing something great will become more important,” she says.
Organisations should start by acknowledging this New Normal, rather than waiting for the threat of COVID-19 to pass, simply because no one can possibly predict when that is likely to be. Only then can leaders consider how best to reshape their businesses accordingly, in line with their organisational purpose and policies around equality, diversity, inclusion and, ultimately, the mental wellbeing of their workforce. “Traumatised workforces, either on the frontline, working from home in sub-optimal ways or suffering from loss of work-life balance, may require enhanced mental health first aid and counselling services. Workforces are exhausted. There’s only so long you can ride on goodwill.
It will be a big challenge to give staff some work-life balance back,” according to a human resources director cited in the CIPD’s November 2020 report Responsible business through crisis: Senior leaders on trust and resilience during COVID-19. Thankfully, lus Laboris’ research shows 31 per cent of C-suite respondents plan to implement more top-down openness around mental health. Of course, is not a cure-all for the current economic climate, but it does provide a point of focus, providing business leaders are committed to it, which means living and breathing it and ensuring it is reflected in every business decision made. Leaders must also ensure organisational purpose flows down the organisation to middle management. Downs says: “It’s about everybody living the purpose and showing their commitment to the purpose through their actions and not just through their words.” Brown agrees, adding that the ramifications for businesses failing to take seriously organisational purpose and their contribution to society may be severe.
“The public is going to be very harsh on those that are not doing it well,” she says. Now is the time for businesses to consider their organisational purpose, to support and help employees understand what it means and how to engage with it, and also how to align their own sense of purpose in the process. Otherwise, they risk leaving the public and shareholders to draw their own conclusions about businesses’ conduct and redirect their allegiances accordingly.