How can our companies best get through the Covid-19 crisis? This was the challenging question that business coach Vanessa Cox – a much sought-after expert during the pandemic – figured out and solved, together with managers and leaders over the past few months. The focus of this work was finding "the Purpose". And it has been shown that companies with a corporate purpose have performed better in the crisis than those who did not follow this path.

Ms. Cox, why do companies need a purpose?

Most organizations claim that they have a corporate purpose. The question is, however, how many of them actually live this purpose in its entirety.
Corporate purpose means defining, understanding and living the value in society and the contribution to society for oneself. This not only applies to the organization or the company itself, but also to the people who work and act there.

Interaction with society plays an important role here. More than just a consideration for stakeholders, i.e. shareholders, customers, suppliers and employees, the corporate sense shapes the influence that the company has on the long-term and future direction.

Put simply: the purpose gives direction.

And to keep that direction, you need a compass.

Exactly. Purpose is a compass for companies to find their way in a rapidly changing environment. The challenge is to pursue this direction authentically, sustainably and successfully – despite uncertainties or unforeseen events, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Companies that have understood this meaning for themselves and live it in their everyday actions, navigate – according to our experience with them – much more successfully through the current extreme macroeconomic crisis.

Does this mean that leadership must change in times of crisis?

For a leader of an organization, acting with purpose means to consider many elements at the same time and above all, to live them as a human being. This includes identification: as a role model in the organization, but also in society– as an individual person who embodies the lived and felt aspects of the purpose.

Vanessa Cox, Business Coach and Partner in The Preston Associates (TPA) © Axel Bahr
Vanessa Cox, Business Coach and Partner in The Preston Associates (TPA) © Axel Bahr

What then are the most important values in the implementation of the purpose?

Credibility & authenticity: Aligning the strategy process and making decisions in such a way that the company remains on course despite short-term, unforeseeable influences. This is difficult. However, business leaders can navigate faster and with greater certainty once they have internalized the direction.
But so can inspiration & commitment: a clear direction inspires, motivates, explains and takes others with it from employees to investors and even customers.

Do you give this direction once and then everything works better?

No, developing meaningfulness is nothing unique, just as working on purpose is not static. It is not enough to define the direction just once and then just sit back and relax. Leaders – especially at the top of the organization – can and must adapt the purpose to world events, new social developments and future prospects. This is why we always speak of direction instead of goal.

So an endless journey? How do people feel when they become aware of this – without a final destination?

The journey as such will be infinite, but people accompany and shape the journey in stages. The feeling to have achieved something, to have shaped something – we talk about "legacy", the heritage of a leader –, theses are the successes and contributions of individual persons. Every bit helps. Every contribution in terms of purpose is valuable.

This is how people motivate themselves, this is how they feel valuable and meaningful as a person. Course deviations and wrong decisions can be forgiven and, if necessary, even corrected if they were made with positive intention, truthfulness and the best of conscience.

One must not forget: Our world has become glassy and more transparent, and through social media truth is spreading fast. Unfortunately lies spread too.

What role do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) play in the design of corporate travel?

Just as the corporate purpose is a journey, the development of sustainability is a journey. We are currently on the road. For companies, these internationally designated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are therefore very important because they can neither grow nor have long-term success in failed societies.

The private sector has a clear and vested interest in working on the development and dissemination of sustainable business solutions.

This is the way to address challenges, build a strong growth strategy for a stable and sustainable business environment and enter new markets.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals play an important role for future success in companies
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals play an important role for future success in companies

And what role do the SDGs play in future business success?

Purpose and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form a unity. They represent an ambitious and transformative agenda. Companies that take an active role in leading this transformation and put SDGs at the heart of operational decisions, will ultimately be better able to seize new market opportunities and manage risk.

Although the Sustainable Development Goals were designed for governments and adopted by them in the United Nations, they provide a framework for measuring the contribution of business to society.

What is your advice to today's business leaders?

Take a holistic approach to purpose – for you as an individual. Define your contribution to the company – set the direction and then: "Anchor up and cast off!"

Thank you very much, Ms. Cox, we are curious to see how companies will develop in terms of sustainability in the coming years!

About Vanessa Cox
Vanessa Cox is partner at The Preston Associates (TPA), a global business coaching firm. She heads the D-A-CH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and advises board members and executives in corporations, but also in portfolio companies or founders of start-ups. Her experience includes organizational development, 1:1 and team coaching. She has lived in India, France and Great Britain and has been working in Germany since 2002.

Header Picture: Razvan Chisu, Unsplash