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About eight weeks ago, I wrote a piece entitled How Purpose Lost its Purpose. Little did I know then that just a few weeks later we would experience an unprecedented health crisis, that the world will be in lockdown, the economy would sink into a recession of historic proportions and that governments around the world would pump trillions of dollars into mitigating the devastating effects of COVID-19.
The central message of my earlier piece was to denounce the gradual devaluation of the concept of purpose to the point of meaninglessness, as the concept had been co-opted and leveraged solely for marketing purposes, with no real substance or action behind the narrative.
The devaluation of purpose pre-COVID-19 contrasted with purpose-led businesses that understood the implicit contract they have with all their key stakeholders, be they employees, investors, customers, regulators or the local community to which they belong.
Cynicism towards the purpose agenda had grown and it made it challenging to distinguish the authentic from the artificial.
Then COVID-19 entered our lives and turned everything upside down. Survival, resilience and protecting ourselves and our loved ones became the only priority and everything else became secondary. In a matter of days we were forced to adapt to the business unusual.
In this new context, “purpose washing” became totally irrelevant, “out of step” and no company or CEO was talking about it anymore. Instead countless businesses and leaders decided to put their money and their efforts where their mouth is, with authentic actions.
Since then many businesses have shown the most empathetic, human and authentic responses to help those in the front line of the health crisis, by supporting affected communities or ensuring that employees retain their jobs at the expense of paying dividends or year-end bonuses.
Authentic organisations that have put stakeholder capitalism into practice and have set out tangible, action-based and targeted responses are the ones gaining the most goodwill.
In the COVID-19 era, where there’s no room for corporate BS and posturing, it’s already been demonstrated that businesses do not exist to “unite the world” or “to elevate the world’s consciousness” but to put stakeholders first and create social and economic value.
I concluded my purpose-related piece with the following message “So my one small piece of advice to business leaders who are committed to embedding purpose in their company – for the sake of themselves and the wider purpose movement – show, don’t tell and be authentic about the reason why you exist”
In other words, if there’s silver lining to be taken from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s surely that businesses have demonstrated that they are capable of doing the right thing for all stakeholders, and there’s actually no need to dress it up as a higher purpose. Looking after stakeholders will more than do.
Alberto López Valenzuela, founder & CEO at alva
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