Organisations are often asked about the core reason for their existence and their unique and positive impact on society. These are questions that merit deep thought and clear answers. Over the past few decades, businesses have come a long way and ushered in tremendous economic growth. They have created jobs, delivered on their missions, and brought prosperity and wealth for their stakeholders. These are in themselves notable achievements. But should the pursuit of profit be the only goal of organisations?
As a society, and indeed the whole of mankind is faced with vexing challenges in the name of climate change, natural and manmade disasters, crowding cities, ageing populations, and a rise in chronic diseases to name a few. Organisations must look deeper and discover those attributes that can help them do more for the good of society itself. There must be a sense of purpose attuned towards common societal, environmental and governance goals.
In other words, organisations must deliver impact to society—an impact that goes beyond the generation of profits.
How can that be done? Organisations can deliver true and measurable impact when they play a material role in society with leaders and employees providing meaning to what that company does. This is not surprising given the influence that corporations have had over society and their recognised role as contributors to the common good.
This leads us to the company’s purpose and what it entails. A company’s purpose carries the power to mobilise and transform by explaining the reason for a company’s existence and how it ultimately creates value for its customers and society at large. It thus goes much beyond the company’s mission which comprises of what it does. Organisations have risen and continue to rise to the occasion as demanded by society.
From helping a company's employees to work from home safely and securely to manufacturing ventilators for hospitals and developing contactless payment and access control solutions, technology companies such as Thales and others can perform a diverse range of functions to serve the interests of society in a crisis like the one we are experiencing today.
COVID-19 has actually provided every company with an opportunity to do a reality check on its corporate purpose and put it to the test. Thales did the same recently and defined its purpose as “building a future we can all trust”—this accurately describes the guiding principles of the company since it was founded almost a century ago. Trust is an important benchmark of purpose. Indeed, other companies have also defined their purpose around the notion of trust, and this just reiterates how big an issue trust has become in our societies. It is, in fact, a challenge so fundamental that we are all going to have to do our part to overcome it.
A corporate’s purpose is its moral compass in such a crisis. It is the important component which helps identify issues that are most crucial to a company’s customers and employees and also determines how its tangible actions and solutions can help them effectively while preserving their safety and security.
For instance, Thales’ corporate purpose revolves around the three components of a future we can all trust: autonomy, resilience, and sustainability. Talking about autonomy, it is important that a company enables its customers to be autonomous in its operations. As a company, we were working alongside our customers during the height of the pandemic to help them carry out their vital operations and retain their autonomy, stay in control and perform their roles while everything around them was grinding to a halt.
Resilience is another key factor which enables organisations to bounce back while also helping partners, customers and suppliers overcome the crisis and return to growth. In terms of sustainability, one needs to remember that, tomorrow, technology providers such as Thales will be required to show material evidence that their resources and capabilities effectively address society's demands for social and environmental responsibility.
The outlook of a company towards its purpose has consequences not just for corporate accountability but also for value creation. It is the barometer of an organisation’s vision for the value it holds and defines its entire existence. The purpose has value and this value is showcased by the impact the company showcases in society.
The current times we are going through is extraordinary. It is an opportunity for businesses to prove the validity and authenticity of their corporate purpose, particularly in terms of responsibility. The purpose a company beholds allows it to look ahead with those who share its vision and at Thales, we believe that with this shared vision, we can build a future we can all trust, together. It is time to check our facts and transform our words into deeds. As such, it marks the beginning of a new era.
—Patrice Caine is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Thales. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by: By Ajay Vaishnav)