The arrival of Covid-19 was an abrupt shock to the world of work. Pre-Covid, our working lives and everything they stood for were largely taken for granted. The driving force behind organisations and individuals was largely focused on progression: hitting the next business target, growth milestone, career milestone, salary milestone. 

Now, with those things up in the air for many, and the economic security of the country’s future an unknown, the ‘value’ of work – what we are working ‘for’, and how we are working – is coming under increasingly close scrutiny.

For that reason, it’s important that the UK’s organisations are focussed more than ever on what they stand for – the emphasis organisations’ place on ‘Purpose’ will be imperative to rallying employees, empowering the workforce, reaching out to the wider public and providing collective focus and drive.

Organisations and brands have the opportunity to harness and use their founding principles in the current environment. An organisation’s central ‘Purpose’ together with Vision’ should provide a guiding light in uncertain times.

What are ‘Purpose’ and ‘Vision’?

Corporate Strategy has a number of elements within in it, including:

  • Vision – where you are going
  • Purpose – why you are going there
  • Mission – what business the organisation is in, what an organisation does and for whom
  • Values – principles to adhere to along the way

Purpose and Vision particularly play an important role in setting the strategy direction. They work together to provide focus for change.

Oxfam provides a leading example of how they can work together to inspire employees and the wider public. Oxfam’s Purpose begins by demonstrating why the organisation exists: “To help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty. We are part of a global movement for change, one that empowers people to create a future that is secure, just, and free from poverty.” Oxfam’s Vision shows what can be achieved by pursuing that Purpose: “A just world without poverty.

As Covid-19 has come to dominate the new world of work, “Purpose” will be taking centre stage.

What role can they play?

In a recent article, McKinsey stressed the importance of Brand messaging in delivering security:

“Amid uncertainty, the power of a brand as a known quantity is a tremendous asset. The current crisis has brought into stark relief the importance of brands meeting the moment with authenticity. Organisations will need to revisit what their brands stand for.”

Purpose and Vision, then – key cornerstones of what your organisation and your brand stand for – can both reassure and be relied upon for their ability to withstand a crisis.

It is in uncertain times, when the future is unknown, that Purpose in particular comes to the fore to act as a steadying anchor in turbulent times. Purpose is the origin of your existence and the reason why you do what you do every day. Purpose describes why an organisation does what it does.

In times like these, Purpose remains steadfast as a trustworthy reminder of why you’re here. Whatever happens on the outside, the reasons why your organisation was set up in the first place continue.

Decisions made in turbulent times send enduring signals to employees, consumers and investors. So, for staff on furlough, with little to do, or lots to do, at risk of redundancy – knowing why and what and you are working for will be incredibly steadying.

If Purpose is the root, then Vision is the sky, and the promise of a future. Right now, whilst Purpose is likely to be robust, Vision may need to be reviewed. Vision asks: what is our end goal? What is the continuing standard of performance? What is the final “target state” and what does that look like? Essentially, who are working to become?

An organisation’s ‘Vision’ can bring focus to everyday tasks. During the day-to-day grind, being able to look to a desired future state can provide perspective – a level of distance from the decision at hand and an opportunity to take a more objective view. A guiding Vision frames the day-to-day tasks and goals of every employee. As an organisation, one collective eye on a desired future state – whatever the external environment might look like – gives employees’ actions in the present, more focus.

Why are they Important right now?

It’s also important that an organisation’s ‘Purpose’ and ‘Vision’ are focussed in the right way during the Covid-19 crisis. In a recent blog, McKinsey stress the importance of putting health and safety first (Purpose) while at the same time keeping  the future in mind (Vision):

“This means, first and foremost, that they (organisations) must lead with Purpose by taking care of their people, their customers, and their communities. At the same time, they must focus on three horizons to shape the way forward: navigate the now, plan for recovery, and lead in the next normal.”

In this case, then, the power of ‘Purpose’ and ‘Vision’ previously detailed can be harnessed for good over the next few months. Whether that’s John Lewis donating pillows, phone chargers, eye masks and 50,000 Easter treats to hospitals on the frontline of the pandemic, or M&S launching ‘All in this Together’ T-shirts in aid of NHS Charities Together. The sustainable footwear retailer Allbirds has donated 2000 pairs of its wool running shoes to front line NHS staff, while Greggs is offering free hot drinks to all health, social and emergency service workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In these unprecedented times, then, the role that Purpose and Vision play is hugely important in guiding decisions and providing direction. We are at a point when organisations and their leaders need to use Purpose and Vision to take decisions today that will define who they are, and what matters to their employees, their customers, their communities and the causes that need them most.

If you’d like to discuss this blog post or share your own perspective on the issues covered, please get in touch or comment via our social media channels on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Established in 2012, Whitecap Consulting is a regional strategy consultancy headquartered in Leeds, with offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle. We typically work with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. Also, we work with clients across a range of sectors including Financial Services, Technology, FinTech, Outsourcing, Consumer and Retail, Property, Healthcare, Higher Education, Manufacturing and Professional Services, including Corporate Finance and PE.