INSIGHTS: PURPOSE AND PROFIT IN CORPORATE REPORTING
This year's Corporate & Financial Awards takes place on 24 September. Deloitte is shortlisted for the awards
When 200 business leaders in the US issued a description of the ‘purpose’ of a corporation this month, it sparked much-needed debate about the importance of inclusive capitalism and the role of business. The Business Roundtable – an influential group of corporate leaders – called for companies to place the wellbeing of workers and the future of the environment alongside the demands of shareholders.
Company purpose is certainly not a new phenomenon, but its elevation alongside the pursuit of profit in this way could provide the impetus needed to help it become a central plank of company strategy. And it will be especially interesting to see whether this changes how companies set about communicating their purpose.
Talking about purpose in a way that is authentic and resonates with employees and other stakeholders can be challenging. There’s a risk that purpose is being commoditised as another corporate buzzword, rather than an essential aspect of how companies can deliver financial performance while still making a positive contribution to society.
At Deloitte we’ve sought to talk about our purpose – ‘to make an impact that matters for clients, people and society’ – through our annual Impact Report. Our annual report is a collection of stories (we do love the power of storytelling!) and key metrics. Critically, the stories are an important tool to provide transparency in the work Deloitte does, showcasing not only the easier-to-tell accounts of supporting charities or social enterprises, but the client projects that make a difference to the UK’s public sector, the future of banking or even agricultural productivity. The report also provides a platform to give an overview on progress we’re making on big issues such as workplace inclusion, diversity, social mobility and sustainability.
Undoubtedly, transparency is an essential aspect of communicating the purpose of any firm, regardless of sector or industry. It’s increasingly expected by all stakeholders whether they’re future employees, government, media or wider society. At times transparency can make for uncomfortable reading, but it is a powerful tool in building trust and effecting much-needed change. Reporting on the gender pay gap is a good example of this – with Deloitte and a number of other businesses choosing to talk about what they’re doing to address it.
The Business Roundtable’s interjection comes at a time when companies are increasingly looking to articulate their corporate purpose. Deloitte’s 2019 Global Readiness Report revealed that a majority of business leaders rated 'societal impact' as the most important factor when evaluating their organisations’ annual performance and in the past year, three-quarters of respondents said they had taken steps to make or change products or services with societal impact in mind.
Translating this commitment to purpose into communications that cut through a jargon-crowded field is the challenge for communications professionals. Traditionally, corporate communications has focused on telling the positive news story, but to communicate purpose there needs to be something of a mind shift.
If an organisation has a purpose and truly stands for something it will, at times, be challenged both internally and externally. Rather than shy away from communicating what they believe in, business leaders – and the communications professionals who support them – will have to become more comfortable with the scrutiny and the dialogue that it encourages.
Susan McKenzie is the head of CEO communications at Deloitte UK