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Leading with Purpose Through the Crisis


Expert analysis from Gillian Horan, CEO, The Pudding. This article has been written exclusively for IoD Ireland members.

How brands respond in times of difficulty can make or break their business. As we emerge from some of the most challenging months we’ve ever faced in business, the world has changed. People have had time to re-evaluate what they really value, and we’ve seen this translate to consumer, employee and personal behaviours. 

When it comes to business, the list of challenges and opportunities continues to grow: global recession, pandemic re-occurrence, collapse in air travel, changed customer value proposition, new business models and intensely competitive domestic markets. When it comes to people, the list is equally disruptive with a changed employee value proposition, engagement, productivity and collaboration in remote/hybrid environments, workplace redesign and reskilling, retaining and motivating your people. To succeed, it is absolutely essential that brands are proactively and purposefully evolving to our new post-COVID environment. 

Purpose and People  

Are you clear on the purpose of your business (beyond profit) and why is this so significant? According to research by Accenture, 62% of customers believe that brands they buy align with their values. Communicating a strong purpose and living that purpose through your values and actions as a brand, translates to revenue and profitable growth. 

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the area of purpose into even stronger focus. Mercer report that top employees are three times more likely to work for a company with a strong sense of purpose. Although you may feel that you have clarity on your purpose, several top brands including Amazon and Adidas, have recently attracted negative attention for their poor treatment of employees during the pandemic. For example, Amazon’s overall brand trust rating has fallen significantly among consumers. 

More than Lip Service 

Brands need to make sure that their purpose and commitment to their values is more than just a tick-box paper exercise. As a business you need to get real clarity on why you exist and what you stand for. Focus on defining your purpose and your distinctive culture. Build a compelling and differentiated ‘Employer Value Proposition’, that inspires, aligns and empowers your people to bring your business strategy to life. 

You need to assess your brand not only from the perspective of attracting customers but attracting talent too. Unfortunately, according to the Harvard Business Review, for many organisations people and employer branding remains disconnected and instead focuses on ‘superficial perks’ rather than on meaningful engagement drivers. 

How Does this Work in Practice? 

So how are you living your purpose and values every day? Have you articulated how your values apply to day-to-day work situations and decisions? Are your values openly discussed at leadership and management meetings? Are your HR programmes structured around your purpose and the drives of engagement in your organisation? Do your performance management, reward and internal communication programmes bring this to life? How are you ensuring that the things you don’t stand for are not tolerated in your organisation? For example, how are you ensuring there are no unconscious biases regarding talent development, hiring, promotions, salaries etc. 

Equally how are you evolving your purpose and values to our new post pandemic work environment? Research by Western Development Commission in partnership with National University of Ireland Galway, shows that 83% of people would like to continue working from home permanently. Are you giving your people the freedom to choose? How are you supporting your people in a practical sense to work from home (or elsewhere)? How are you helping them adjust to the change with health and wellness packages and increased flexibility to manage additional duties such as childcare? 

The Role of Boards  

Boards can be instrumental in activating a company’s sense of purpose. The World Economic Forum has outlined how boards can make an impact in our changed, post-COVID world, by aligning strategic priorities with drivers of sustainable value creation. Through strong leadership and being future focused, boards will need to manage a myriad of new and more complex challenges including digital transformation, globalisation of our working practices and making health and wellbeing a priority. Setting and governing purpose will be key to making this happen. 

Your People are Your Success 

Your people have a huge part to play in the next phase of your business success. They create and deliver your customer experience which ultimately drives business success. You have a unique opportunity to evolve your people experience to match the new expectations of your people and your customers. It’s time to embrace this opportunity and lead with purpose.