The state of the debate on purpose in business

Author: EY  Beacon Institute
Image: EY Beacon Institute

The world is changing, and so is business. Although the familiar concerns of profit and loss still dominate the daily agenda, many executives are now looking for a deeper meaning.

They want to build a business that exists not only to serve their stakeholders, but also to contribute something valuable to society at large.

Despite its many successes, the corporation itself is in a state of crisis, struggling to get beyond ways of thinking and acting that seem increasingly out of sync with the times.

By acting on their purpose, companies can create more value for their shareholders and society over the long term than by pursuing purely financial goals or a narrowly defined self-interest.

This State of the Debate report presents the latest thinking about the importance of purpose in business today. It discusses why executives are now looking at purpose as an important strategic tool and how a strong purpose can help an organization develop the capabilities and resilience necessary for continuous growth and transformation. However, it also explore the reasons that so many companies can clearly articulate a compelling purpose but have yet to make it an integral part of their strategy, business model, culture or operating model.

This report presents insights from two types of sources: first, a review of more than 150 books, and academic and mainstream business articles on purpose and related topics published since 1995; and second, interviews with leading experts and practitioners who have observed or worked with companies that were transforming their business through purpose.