Few business buzzwords arouse more skepticism than the notion of corporate purpose. It’s no surprise that for years some companies have offered simple lip service about their purpose—or a reason for being—in order to look virtuous to staff, customers and the communities they serve.
Earlier this month, Harper Business released a new book by Harvard Business School professor Ranjay Gulati titled, “Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies,” which proposes true purpose should be a deeply engrained part of a company’s corporate culture.
Gulati surveys successful companies that have a purpose-driven culture—Etsy, Panera Bread, and Warby Parker among them—as well as businesses that have seen setbacks because they don’t. Facebook’s lackluster efforts to oust white supremacist groups from its platform, for example, resulted in a loss of user trust.
When it comes to establishing purpose and maintaining a positive reputation for your organization, staff and customer trust is essential. No doubt trust is earned. The company’s leadership must earn this trust daily. This is bolstered by being ethical, working with purpose and embracing social responsibility, among other factors.
Gulati suggests purpose must be a major part of the management ethos, documenting the vast performance gains and social benefits that may occur when organizations get purpose right. Among them, he proposes, are “reputational benefits”— earning a positive brand image.
I emphatically applaud Gulati for highlighting reputation as a tangible benefit for organizations that thoughtfully find a sense of deep purpose.
However, while Gulati suggests companies systematically build purpose into every key organizational function to mobilize stakeholders and enhance performance, I identified a critical component is missing from this notion when it comes to purpose and reputation.
If having commendable purpose and a favorable reputation is critical to an organizaton, then who within the company is deputized to oversee it and ensure its success?
Managing your reputation can’t simply fall to the company’s C-suite, HR, marketing department or loosely give the job to “everyone.” Nor can it be reduced to a fringe benefit of having deep purpose. I wholeheartedly recommend an organization hire a Chief Reputation Officer (CRO) to ensure someone stays vigilant and takes actions to enhance, advance and protect its reputation—as driven by its purpose.
The CRO ensures the organization’s reputation does not default to a simple buzzword either. Most importantly, the CRO fastidiously supervises the company’s purpose, which results in a favorable reputation by the company’s staff, customers and community. If you don’t focus on these important audiences, then what’s the purpose of a company’s purpose?