It's a Brave New World at the Intersection of Purpose and Profit

I'm hopeful that at least some readers will admit to being old enough to remember the classic 1970s-80s E.F. Hutton TV ads that always closed with the investment giant reminding us: “When E.F. Hutton talk, people listen.”

Flash-forward to this week, and you can bet people are listening after a current investment heavyweight had something to say.

In a letter to the CEOs of the world’s largest public companies, BlackRock founder and chief executive Laurence Fink threw down the gauntlet, informing the companies that profits alone will no longer be enough to merit the investment firm’s support: a company must “show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

This is, in and of itself, an absolutely head-spinning moment on Wall Street and beyond: the world’s largest institutional investor going all-in on “giving back”… putting “purpose” on a par with profits. Heavy stuff indeed.

But the bigger picture here is that BlackRock’s edict comes (not coincidentally) as executives world-wide are beginning to grapple with another alarming challenge: how to react and respond when your company finds itself swept up very publicly in any of the myriad issues swirling in the toxic brew that is today’s politically charged and divided environment. (Can you say “Pappa John’s”?)

It's becoming increasingly clear that in this “new normal,” – where companies need to thread the needle between “doing well” financially and “doing good” globally… where one Sunday morning Tweet from Mar-a-Lago could bring 1,000 reporters to your HQ – companies will need not only to state a clear purpose but also demonstrate that they’ve instituted the internal cultural programs to reinforce that purpose and drive it into corporate communications at all levels.

Preparation is Key When Prevention Isn’t an Option

You know how “follow the leader” works. Expect more investment firms to fall in line behind BlackRock. And expect more companies of every size and shape to start taking an unflinching look inward to evaluate everything from their mission, vision and value statements to their philanthropic and cultural initiatives.

Forget “whether” or "if." When your company is caught in the cross-hairs of a public relations spat or evaluating the best way to positively impact society, the “north star” of purpose – why your organization exists (beyond profits) and the big honking problem it was founded to solve – is the one place that everyone in the organization can look to for on-brand, on-message guidance and navigation. 

To zero-in on their purpose, most companies will be wise to avail themselves of the skills of a solid outside partner, since proximity can often be distorting for internal teams who are fighting the daily battle… the forest-through-the-trees thing. And given the speed with which your organization and its leaders can find themselves called to the carpet or forced to take a stand on a thorny issue, failing to plan truly is planning to fail.

Thinking about evaluating, articulating or refreshing your organization’s purpose? Download our self-assessment tool and our read about our revolutionary Purpose-Way-Impact approach. Of course, you can hack the whole process – and save yourself some reading – by contacting us directly.