Insight article

The integrity of purpose

Ruined reputations spin lasting stories.

We are living through times where the careless, the insensitive, or the selfish act can impact not only the reputations of those responsible but also the health and wellbeing of other human beings. The eyes of the world are closely watching the decisions that businesses make; mistakes during a pandemic mean so much more than just managerial errors of judgement.

A BOOHOO warehouse is a “coronavirus breeding ground”, in the words of its own staff, and the company loses 40% of its share price in just two weeks. Sports Direct lobbies the government to keep stores open at the start of the outbreak, and must make a humiliating public apology just days later. The union GMB reports that 98% of its ASOS workers feel unsafe in one of the retail giant’s warehouses, which is overwhelmed with new orders after its German counterpart closes.

These companies will now be looking to rapidly re-examine their purpose and values. They will need to refresh priorities and repair the damage done to customer perception, but they also will be mindful of the internal implications of a purely profit-driven agenda: disengaged, unhappy employees, searching for new horizons at an organisation whose values are more closely aligned with their own. The global trust deficit is widening. Discussions about corporate purpose are increasingly framed around authenticity and benevolence, and employees are instinctively inclined to look to their employer for guidance during a crisis: the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, for example, indicates that staff trust their company’s coronavirus information first, before NGOs, governments and media.

The implications are obvious. Getting things wrong can and will have a devastating effect on a company’s health and reputation; getting them right can dynamically propel an organisation into the ‘new normal’, fitter and stronger than ever.

One organisation getting it very right is the luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). Its perfume and cosmetics sites have retooled their lines to make hand sanitiser gel for hospitals; it is producing masks at 12 of its workshops; and proceeds of sales of several of its products have been donated to the WHO Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. At Easter, it gifted 3,000 Easter chocolates to hospitalised children and children of medical personnel in Paris hospitals, and breakfasts to hospital staff throughout the crisis. It has also reached out to a variety of partner organisations, such as Viva Technology and St Martin’s School of Art, to explore ways in which technology and social media can provide innovative practical solutions and digital community initiatives. LMVH has dramatically repositioned its purpose: out of a mission to provide luxury has emerged a compassionate drive to help, support and comfort people in need.

Businesses emerging into the world of the ‘new normal’ need to harness the powerful, inspiring integrity of storytelling to ensure their journey is authentically and reliably purpose-driven. And in these socially distanced times, a digitally-driven story is the most effective mechanism for creating a purpose-driven organisation.

Reputations are stories. Let us help you tell yours. 

Alastair Hagger

Alastair Hagger

Associate

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