In the age of ultra-transparency having a phoney purpose is a serious source of failure

 In Communications, Leadership, Purpose

People recognise that not every organisation’s purpose is to cure cancer, but they expect that the organisation will make choices that have a positive impact on people, the community and the planet. And in the age of ultra-transparency – where every action is scrutinised – the difference a company makes needs to be transparent and explicit – and it must come from the authentic values that are embedded deep in the DNA of the organisation.

So, let’s look at when actions seem to conflict with words. P&O Ferries has this as their mission: ‘Our mission is to build the best possible business for our customers, our people and our communities.’ On March 17th, the company’s CEO sacked 800 staff via video call and replaced them with contract workers on about half the UK’s minimum wage.   

These actions, as Simon Sinek says (“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”), simply proves what P&O Ferries believes – and it doesn’t appear to support its mission. The UK government has called for the CEO to resign’ is reviewing its contracts with the company, and is planning to change the law so that the company cannot pay less than the minimum wage. The CEO has admitted he decided to break the law and would do so again. The negative commercial, trust and reputational impact of these actions will be long-lasting as its customers, people and connected communities decide if they believe what the company believes!

Sue Garrard, when at Unilever, said: “The world of big business is dividing into those who really have a clear sense of how their business adds value to society and those who see their sole objective to be purely economic by delivering short term value to shareholders.” P&O’sstated purpose claimed to be the former but clearly is really the latter.

So, if you are the leader of a business, make sure your purpose truly says what you believe. And, if it isn’t to be a force for good but just a source of profit, then tell it how it is. At least that enables people to choose whether to engage based on the truth.

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