“There is no greater power than a community discovering what matters to it.” Margaret Wheatley
Corporate purpose is neither a brand nor a slogan, it is a commitment
Defined by the 2019 Pact Law (Article 1835 of the Civil Code), the corporate purpose is “…made up of the principles with which the company endows itself and for the respect of which it intends to allocate resources in carrying out its activity.” The definition remains broad, the legislator wished to give companies the opportunity to adapt to this new definition. The Notat-Sénard report, which presided over the drafting of the French Pacte law, specifies: “The company is no longer defined solely by what it does, but why it does it “*. A major change in principle. It is now a matter of reconciling financial and collective interests: “Every company must have a lawful object and be constituted in the common interest of the partners. The company is managed in its social interest, taking into consideration the social and environmental issues of its activity” (Article 1833 of the Civil Code). The corporate purpose is the expression of your identity (who are you?), your usefulness to society (why do you exist?) and what you wish to contribute to (what are your commitments?).
To have a reason to be or to take the risk of not being
Investors, employees, suppliers, customers and society expect you to commit to the major challenges of our time. Your corporate purpose is to make a commitment to the general interest that you intend to pursue. Here are a few examples: “Convinced that only sincere attention to others and to the world can guarantee a real common good, we place this attention at the heart of each of our commitments and each of our actions” (MAIF), “We are at the service of our customers and the world in which we live” (BNP Paribas)
, “To be an economic player supporting with ambition, transparency and benevolence high-potential projects, which are good for oneself, for society and good for the planet” (EUTOPIA). This is not a simple exercise, but it is nevertheless vital.
The corporate purpose places the company and its stakeholders in a long-term vision. It is a new form of governance that potentiates collective intelligence. It is a source of innovation, attracts and retains talent, builds customer loyalty and consolidates relationships with partners. In a complex and uncertain world, your corporate purpose is your anchor, your source of inspiration, the meaning given to your actions.
The false good reasons for not writing your corporate purpose
You know your products/services (the what), you know how to explain everything that makes them better or different from your competitors (the how) but (and to finish with Simon Sinek), why do you do it? Remember: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. The why is what inspires, what makes your customers, your employees, your investors, your suppliers… believe in what you believe. Your corporate purpose is your why. Since it is nowadays a question of aligning financial interest and collective interest, the why is what feeds the sustainability of your company.
And now, how do we do it?
There is no single method. You are not your competitor even if you do the same business. Your organization, your corporate culture, your story and the way you perceive the issues around your corporate purpose will condition your approach. While some start with a panel of employees and then, from the material collected, involve the management team in a second step, others do the opposite, in a more “top down” approach. However, experience shows that thinking about its corporate purpose is a fundamentally inclusive process. It cannot do without the involvement of senior management, employees, and even external stakeholders (partners, clients, freelancers, etc.), at the risk of being less consistent with the real world, its impact and the commitments it implies.
What recommendations to feed your thought
A “cosmetic” corporate purpose is useless and will not fool anyone. A corporate purpose must be strategic: it commits to the common good within a given sector. To do this, it is important that you are clear about your objectives. What do you expect from writing your corporate purpose? Is it a response to strategic, organizational transformation, commercial, human resources, marketing or communication issues? Being clear on your objectives will allow you to decide on the approach to follow.
The exercise is introspective. You will have to question your dreams and beliefs. Individually and collectively. Your corporate purpose, your vision of the world, what you think are the major issues, the place of your company in society. Give yourself time. On average, it takes between 6 and 18 months to define your corporate purpose. The exercise is collaborative and iterative. It requires infusion to discover all the flavors and active principles. Dare to express what you believe in, to dream. Your corporate purpose must be neither consensual nor polarizing. It is a standpoint that will be a source of inspiration for every decision made by each of your stakeholders. Don’t sacrifice substance for form. Writing your corporate purpose comes at the end of the road according to the well-known idea that “What is well conceived is clearly stated and the words to say it come easily”.
What we can do with you
- Analyze your corporate communication in order to give you the strengths and weaknesses that exist before defining your corporate purpose.
- Define and implement the method that suits you and will be the most effective for you.
- Question your strategic vision and ideas of your usefulness in tomorrow’s world
- Facilitate reflection sessions with your stakeholders to engage.
- Find the words of your corporate purpose.
- Develop an editorial proposal to bring your corporate purpose to life in all its components, with all your stakeholders.
*”The company, an object of collective interest,” Notat-Sénard reported to the Ministers of Ecological and Solidarity Transition, Justice, Economy and Finance, and Labor, March 9, 2018.