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Thought Leadership

Adam Bryant

Beyond purpose statements

August 9, 2022

Fuzzy claims to greater ambition are starting to feel like just another corporate fad. It’s time to replace them with impact statements.

Imagine, for a moment, somebody sitting down 50 years from now to write a book about the history of modern capitalism. That writer would undoubtedly devote at least a few chapters to the rise of stakeholder capitalism and how the pandemic transformed the nature of work, and particularly to the degree to which corporations have displaced government as the trusted and primary drivers of social change.

Whether reluctantly or willingly, corporations have taken up the charge, touting their purpose statements and seemingly declaring in every sentence that they are “mission-driven.” The “great resignation” is another reason that purpose statements have become so popular. When the pandemic hit, and so many employees were working at home and contemplating their mortality, a lot of people decided that they wanted more than an “it’s called work for a reason” job. And so, to help with retention and recruitment, companies embraced purpose statements to speak to the need for a calling, rather than just a paycheck.

But the net effect is that many CEOs are starting to sound like politicians, throwing around lofty language that is vague and hard to pin down. And therein lies the problem, or certainly the challenge: to remain credible and trustworthy, leaders need to shift the conversation from fuzzy purpose bromides to more tangible and concrete statements about the impact their companies are having on society.

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The ExCo Group’s Adam Bryant wrote this article for his column in Strategy + Business.