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Putting Purpose At The Heart Of Business Is Harder Than It Looks

Source | | Roger Trapp

Even before the pandemic struck, “purpose” had become a watchword in business. Thanks in large part to pressure from younger employees seeking to work in places with meaning and from investors increasingly worried about climate change and sustainability in general, organizations have for a few years at least been talking about a purpose beyond simply making a profit. A key step in this becoming more mainstream was the statement by the Business Roundtable group of leading U.S. companies that stakeholder value should no longer be the key focus of corporate activity. But, with the coronavirus bringing about fundamental changes in how everybody lives and works and in many people’s attitudes, there is increasing pressure to turn the talk into action.

Only today, Given, an agency that has been helping companies develop purpose-driven brands for some years, launched an “insider’s guide to purpose.” Earlier this month, a book attempted to set out what this focus means for leadership. Written by Hubert Joly, former chairman and CEO of the consumer electronics retailer Best Buy (one of the signatories of that 2019 Business Roundtable statement), The Heart of Business describes how the company was turned around by such initiatives as pursuing a noble purpose, putting people at the center, embracing all stakeholders and treating profit as an outcome rather than an end in itself. Along the way, Joly, who stepped down from the chair of Best Buy last June, having passed on the CEO baton the year before, also describes his own transformation from ambitious, hard-driving consultant and young executive into a more thoughtful and considered leader.

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