By Fenella Grey, Chair, Porter Novelli London
A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of hearing the one and only Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School speak at the World Business Forum in London. Professor Porter addressed 1,200 aspiring, avid-note-taking business leaders on the new competitive advantage for business today. His answer, famously, is to create shared value – value that creates benefits for business and society concurrently.
There is nothing radically new in what Professor Porter was saying regarding the big strategic opportunity for business to combine conventional economic value with social value. However, after another year of rightful scrutiny regarding genuine purpose versus corporate “woke-washing,” which Unilever’s new CEO, Alan Jope says is “polluting purpose” at #CannesLions this year, we see plenty of businesses and brands who are incredibly effective at telling us how brilliantly they are making the world a better place, but very few are effectively proving how they are living purpose throughout every aspect of their organization.
If business is to win the respect of society, we must move well and truly beyond the practice of having a few side projects and properly link societal problems with core business strategy.
In the summer of 2017, courtesy of Omnicom University’s Senior Management Program, I discovered that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Business success starts by inspiring and satisfying your employees, and that financial results are the end scorecard, not the starting point. However, what has become resoundingly apparent since then, is that while culture does indeed eat strategy for breakfast, “culture gets its appetite from purpose.” Elegantly put by friend and colleague John O’Brien, MBE, Managing Partner of Omnicom’s One Hundred Agency.
So, to link core business strategy to societal problems, we must first understand what employees care about and how they want to use their expertise and skills to make a difference in the world. We then must match these needs in a way that’s authentic to our business or brand. While the market is aflood with facts and stats on the business case for purpose, people are far more likely to be engaged at work if they believe in what your organization stands for, and more importantly, how it and they need to behave to live it.
At Porter Novelli, we believe organizations thrive and grow when they prove an ambition to make a positive impact on society. That’s what we mean by purpose, and it’s what we’ve been helping our clients do for more than 45 years. We live our own purpose by using the power of communications to advance society. And now as of today, we are elevating our approach and uniting around the world to make a positive impact in the space of Diversity, Inclusion and Human Rights. We know that this is what our people care about and it’s a space where our business can stand tall, authentically.
We call it 1ForAll; and it’s our marketplace for giving back, where we push for equal rights, help end discrimination and prejudice, support those in developing and developed countries and address long-term change and short-term emergencies. Through this initiative, each of us at Porter Novelli can now donate 1% of our time to causes close to our hearts, to share those stories, and to learn from our different experiences. We know that within this space of diversity, inclusion and human rights, our teams want to: help educate to liberate, support and advance womankind, protect and propel the next generation, stand up to stigma around mental health, work to stop human trafficking, and more.
And it’s driven by our passionate ambassadors from around the world, united to use our skills and expertise to effect positive change, and whom I thank profusely.
If I dare end by building on Professor Porter’s wise analysis, competitive advantage today is to indeed create shared value, which starts by you sharing yours to help your organization and society thrive together. It’s up to us.