As we mature, many of us find ourselves asking, “What is my purpose in life?” The answer to that question marks the beginning of a personal growth journey. This concept extends to entities, too. An organization with a clear mandate that is understood – and shared – by its team members is a formidable force in any industry.

Your company’s purpose defines your view of business success. In today’s world of perpetual interconnectivity, a purpose that resonates with your audience becomes a self-perpetuating and cost-free commercial for the organization. Conversely, a generic or inauthentic statement of purpose could not just fail to inspire loyalty but even alienate your target demographic.

The Ultimate Sin

If you have not heard the term “purpose-washing” yet, the odds are that you will soon enough. It is used to describe a discrepancy between what a company proclaims its values to be and the on-ground reality of its actions.

We were treated to several stunningly accurate examples of purpose-washing at the start of Pride month in June. Twitter users noted that many of the world’s largest and most vocal companies for LGBTQ+ rights had changed their profiles to Pride flags, but only in the West and other open-minded countries. Their passion for human rights and equality evaporated in exactly those parts of the world where LGBTQ+ people are jailed and even killed simply for existing.

It is easy to be brave when there is profit to be made but no consequences to be suffered. However, purpose-washing is not easily forgotten or forgiven and many of the offenders will be reminded of this duplicity in the future.

Aligning Business and Society

A company can thrive when its business purpose and social purpose are aligned. A chasm between these internal and external factors is the perfect recipe for accusations of purpose-washing.

Disney, which has been overtly vocal on the “diversity and inclusion” platform in the United States has repeatedly worked against that concept internationally. The mega-corporation drew immense flak for featuring Black actor John Boyega prominently on Star Wars posters in the West but shrinking and sidelining his likeness for posters in China.

Organizations have to abide by the values stated in their purpose consistently, not just when it is convenient. Vacillation and mixed messages are catastrophic for PR.

Towing the Line

Craft your organization’s purpose with input from your employees but refrain from infusing it with every feel-good sentiment suggested. It is your job to distill the essential elements

compatible with your obligations to stakeholders, including shareholders. A lofty statement of purpose is pointless, and even a liability, if it is not practical.

Some of the world’s biggest brands are stumbling at the “purpose” hurdle because of such contradictions. They have at their advantage a considerable buffer of support that can counteract one-off mistakes but that luxury may not be available to you. Create wisely.

Please contact me today if you would like to further discuss ways to define your organizations purpose.