Across Canada and around the globe, the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, social justice movements, and new technologies and platforms are transforming relationships between business, society and governments. Increased expectations around transparency, equity and values are shaping the perceptions of businesses and their leaders. Performance still matters, but organizations are no longer judged on performance alone; the bottom line is no longer the bottom line.

Your organization’s corporate purpose and your reputation are more important than ever before. From investors and employees, to customers, partners, and other stakeholders – your audience wants to know why you do what you do. They’re making decisions about your business based on their perception of the kind of organization you are, the decisions you make, and the values that drive them. The companies that understand this, and make purpose a core part of how they do business are seeing the benefits a clearly articulated purpose, and a solid corporate reputation can have on the bottom line, too.

To examine these issues, Jason MacDonald, Corporate Advisory Lead at H+K moderated a discussion hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce with Tanya Bevington, Head of Communications at IKEA Canada, Judith Sparkes, Vice President, Communications at Suncor and Meigan Terry, Chief Social Impact and Communications Officer at Scotiabank.

Here’s what we heard:

1. Purpose should answer the question why.

Purpose is different than your organization’s vision (where you’re going), values (your desired culture) and mission (what you do and for whom). Purpose is more outward focused; it should help people understand why you exist and the impact your organization has on the communities it operates in.

2. Its good business to be a good business.

Investors, customers, and employees increasingly expect companies and brands to be more than just what they sell. By leaning into purpose, your organization can help make better decisions, inspire confidence with those audiences, build trust, and increase profit.

3. Purpose is not just a communications exercise.

Purpose must be demonstrated through not just what you say but what you do. In an increasingly transparent business environment, audiences can detect virtue signaling compared to genuine commitment. Pick your spots to ensure your ambition influences your action, and actions reflect your words.

4. Your entire organization should be engaged.

Purpose must come from your leadership to ensure that it is truly anchoring your organization’s decisions. But it also needs to be cultivated with your employees and reflect their values and concerns. They are the brand’s ambassadors and need to see themselves reflected in your purpose in order for it to have a real and tangible effect.

5. Be bold and push boundaries.

Keep an open perspective about what your role can be in and how your organization can make a positive difference on issues that matter to your communities. An open and ongoing conversation with investors, customers and employees is more likely to lead to authentic opportunities that have the biggest impact and are aligned with your business strategy.