When an Organisation Blows Up its Purpose
If you’ve ever wondered “what’s the commercial value of business purpose clarity?” then the PwC Australia case study playing out right now is one for the ages.
In brief, the firm is accused – as advisers to government under non-disclosure agreements – of using confidential information for commercial gain, tipping off their clients of looming tax changes and helping them develop work arounds (refer PwC’s statement or ABC’s video summary).
Whether it can survive and recover is anyone’s guess, with criminal charges not out of the question. And it’s not a case of a rogue consultant, this went far and wide within the firm.
What is PwC’s purpose statement I hear you ask?
“Our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems”
It highlights the fact that too many corporate purpose statements represent fiction rather than fact. Companies have become quite adept at forming eloquent purpose statements that make your heart sing. I help organisations with this task from time to time and the key message I push out is: this is merely a statement of intent, you have to actually do it.
So it may not surprise you to learn that, what they are not so good at by and large, is doing it. So what does ‘doing it’ really mean? This is a challenge that many executives and directors are turning to right now.
It’s firstly about governance, how do you know if you are delivering on your purpose or not?
- What do you measure?
- How do measure it?
- Who is accountable?
Furthermore, when remuneration is misaligned with the purpose of the firm, as would appear to be the case with PwC Australia, then the temptations can be too great.
To adopt and implement corporate purpose, it is about hard coding the benefit you aim to deliver to society into the DNA of the firm, not treating it as a passing fancy for the annual offsite and a bunch of rah rah associated with it.
Having conquered governance – and very few firms have managed to do that – the overall goals and measures have to be pushed down through to strategy, operations and people.
It’s seldom about reinventing the way you do business, it’s about putting a purpose-lens or overlay onto your existing processes.
The hard work pays off many times over. Ignore it and you may end up like our good friends at PwC Australia, facing an existential crisis, and all because several partners saw fit to put their own greed above that of their client’s interests.
On the upside, they have reminded us all about the value of trust. 🍏
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Phil Preston is a keynote speaker and facilitator who helps individuals, teams and organisations draw upon the power of purpose for high performance with positive impact. He is the author of Connecting Profit with Purpose, host of The Purpose Edge podcast and you can contact him via email@example.com