Greater Expectations: Understanding, Implementing and Setting Real Corporate Purpose

Michael Bayler

Founder and Director


“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”
Larry Fink, CEO, BlackRock, Letter to CEOs, 16/1/2018

Who is this for?
Greater Expectations is written for business leadership. Its aim is to enable rapid understanding, clear thinking and decisive, confident action, as
firms everywhere recognise and engage with the challenges of setting, implementing and benefitting from their own unique corporate purpose.
This is, we find as we examine the problem closely, the single most important task facing the corporation as the primary engine of capitalism. The way we do business, and how this affects the responsibilities, priorities, behaviours and future success of firms everywhere, need to change.
However, while the subject is under discussion in boardrooms all around the world, the context, principles, reference points, terms and objectives that inform and guide the purpose of the corporation – before we get anywhere near the requirements of a particular firm – have remained unhelpfully short-sighted and nebulous.
For example, the purpose of the corporation has become, perhaps understandably, confused with the overwhelming sustainability crisis that the planet is facing. The two issues are, of course, intimately linked; but as we’ll see, in order for the former issue to make a difference to the latter, they must be understood and considered separately.
More prosaically, framing the discovery of corporate purpose as merely a hunt for ‘the Why’ turns out to be both naïve and limiting. Corporate purpose, at this point, is not simply the statement of a heartening aspiration to keep the firm’s external and internal critics quiet. It’s a profound and urgent evolution in how we think about, manage and evaluate the activities and performance of the firm.
In other words, this new and far more radical discourse about purpose is, at its root, all about value.

The approach
We look at corporate purpose through three distinct lenses. First, the investor; second, the economist; third, the multinational corporation. The goal is to synthesise and simplify the learnings from each angle; to triangulate on a fresh and applicable understanding of what we can for now, if only to release it from the moribund body of previous thinking on the subject, call ‘Real Purpose’.
Greater Expectations also draws on the experience of the author as a strategic advisor to leadership across a wide range of industry sectors and challenges; here, in particular, on recent purpose development and delivery work for clients in pharmaceutical, banking and marketing.

Download the ffull report here: Greater Expectations v 2.0

An #UNTHNKBL leadership paper by Michael Bayler
With special thanks to Professor Colin Mayer, Said Business School; Rahul Malhotra, Shell; Jessica Groopman, Kaleido Insights.

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