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  • Writer's pictureMark Harrison

How Corporate Purpose Has Evolved

How can your organization play a larger role in society?
Image Description: Four women stand in a white studio with different coloured suits – a black suit, pink suit, peach suit and grey suit. They are wearing white t-shirts and white sneakers. They all have different poses.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

At some point in my business education,

I became a firm believer in the succinct definition of a corporation’s purpose coined by Peter Drucker: “The purpose of a business is to create a customer”. Variations on this theme have existed for decades and have powerfully impacted the strategic thinking behind organizational strategy, business planning, and corporate behaviour.

If you took the sum of all these various, intersecting, connected parts you would come to a simple conclusion: that corporations need customers in order to provide the highest returns to its shareholders. That, ladies and gentlemen, IS business. Sell shit, get rich. Sell more shit, get even richer. Sell as much shit as possible, to be filthy-ass rich. 

Well, not anymore. 

I have been on a bit of bandwagon for a good while now with the opinion that brands and businesses need to play a larger role in society than just make money. This is not a message I created or can claim any ounce of ownership. The authors of Good is the New Cool, for example, are rightfully entitled to this mantle. But they are not alone. A chorus of business commentators have increasingly grown louder about the need for the corporate community to step up and lead. 

In my mind it works like this:

Every day, in every corner of society, we are let down by our leaders. Even those of us blessed enough to live in free societies are subject to the bloated egos of the ethically void people who represent us as heads of state. It seems that every election provides the public with more dispiriting choices and unimaginable outcomes. Take a critical eye to the world and wallow in despair. This is who is in charge?

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. The world works in a simple manner. They/He/She who has the most assets can have the most impact. Meaning that corporations who generate by far the most economic impact in our society can actually become leaders of our society. Can is the wrong term. Should is the correct one. 

If companies stand up and take a stand, the world will be a better place. The customers, employees and voters of the future – also known as Gen Z – are demanding it. Thankfully, companies are paying attention. 

The Business Roundtable, a collection of two hundred of the most important CEO’s in America, signed off on a new statement of purpose for a corporation, and celebrated their two year anniversary by reporting on their results. This was a watershed moment that should not be missed. It is the first time that these leaders have formally recognized, as a collective, that the world needs them. Boy do we ever. 

Let’s help these big companies keep moving. Let’s look inward at our own organizations, whether you own a business, work in a business, or an organization. You can and should become part of the solution. Your organization has reach, reputation and resources. Your organization can help tackle so many of the world’s issues that our governments are ignoring because they are too busy grandstanding. 

The collective might of your organizations can be stronger than you can imagine. The Business Roundtable has given you an opening to enter a whole new arena. As the business leaders stated, the “dream” of our parents is at peril. Conscious Capitalism, or whatever you wish to call it, can help restore it. Your customers are now demanding it. 

(Image Description: Four women stand in a white studio with different coloured suits – a black suit, pink suit, peach suit and grey suit. They are wearing white t-shirts and white sneakers. They all have different poses.)


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