IMD International

"Keeping it real”- IMD and Burson-Marsteller launch corporate purpose study focused on authenticity

April 16, 2015

IMD and Burson-Marsteller, a leading global public relations and communications firm, today announced the launch of “Keeping it real” – How authentic is your corporate purpose?” The study identifies the key drivers of authentic corporate purpose and reveals a questionnaire that companies can use to assess themselves if they want to discover, define and deliver their corporate purpose. The study builds on an on-going collaboration on leadership and strategic issues related to corporate purpose since 2008 between IMD’s CSL Learning Platform at the Global Center for Sustainability Leadership (CSL) and Burson-Marsteller.

This year’s corporate purpose study is presented in the context of the findings of Burson-Marsteller’s Corporate Perception Indicator, a global survey of public hopes and expectations of companies and their leaders. While the survey found that there is continued skepticism about the behavior of corporations and their leaders, it also showed that there is a strong wish to hear more from the corporate world about their broader purpose and contribution to society.

“We know that both the general public and business leaders, especially in the developed world, retain reservations about corporations as economic, political and social actors, but also that there is a real desire to hear more from companies and their leaders about their role as a force for economic growth and social progress. This year’s work on corporate purpose can help bridge this gap by identifying the characteristics of companies that successfully define and communicate their wider purpose,” said Don Baer, Worldwide Chair and CEO of Burson-Marsteller.

The 2015 study, based on a quantitative survey and interviews with business leaders, shows wide-spread understanding by business leaders that having a well-communicated corporate purpose is not enough to benefit reputation. Rather, corporate purpose has to be real and authentic and embedded in corporate strategy. This makes living an authentic corporate purpose a challenge as companies seek to balance short-term financial considerations with their long-term values and identity. Authenticity of corporate purpose happens when there is alignment between a firm’s perceived and stated corporate purpose and the actual strategic decisions and actions a firm takes.

“An authentic corporate purpose guides business decisions and is central to developing strategy. It also plays a key role in guiding and motivating employees. Communicating it internally and externally is critical. But the purpose comes first – it is not a communications tool,” said Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Europe, Middle East & Africa and Worldwide head of strategy. “It is not surprising that leadership emerged as a strong and consistent driver of authentic corporate purpose. Leaders need to be relentlessly committed to embedding the purpose throughout the organization. Our study on authenticity seeks to provide executives with a roadmap for discovering, defining and delivering authentic corporate purpose for their organizations.”

“Keeping it real” - How authentic is your corporate purpose? identifies 12 drivers of authenticity, divided into those that relate to identity and those that relate to image. Drivers range from how transparent and open to self-regulation a company is, to its long-term orientation and consistency. It also takes into consideration differentiating factors such as passion and originality. And as Aileen Ionescu-Somers, Director of IMD’s CSL Learning Platform points out “What we have now - as a result of this research - is a veritable diagnostic toolset that can be used by companies to drive authenticity throughout their organizations.”

“Together with strong leadership, our research shows that awareness is the top dimension that drives authenticity – meaning that a company has an understanding of its own strengths and weaknesses, what drives or motivates its actions and how this affects key stakeholders and the environment. But all drivers are critical to overcoming the skepticism of internal and external audiences and must be managed in a comprehensive way,” said Daina Mazutis, Professor of Strategy and Ethics at IMD.

Read the report here: "Keeping it Real"

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