Corporate Narrative

WTF Part 4: The Corporate Narrative – Culture and Social Purpose

In part 1 of this five part series I plotted out what I’m calling the Seven Part Corporate Narrative –

Seven Part Corporate Narrative


I’ll go for culture first. “Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast,” a remark attributed to Peter Drucker makes sense to me.

If the strategy is in conflict with the culture of the company then for the strategy to be successful the behaviours and norms associated with the culture must be tackled first. After all, people in the company need to sustain their interest in the strategy over the medium to long term – indeed – they need to be gunning for the strategy, they need to be implementing it with pride. If the way the strategy is communicated does not fit the culture then it is likely to fail as no one will value it.

Culture is pretty hard to describe. In this model it has a couple of important features – accepted behaviours, cultural norms, values and heritage. Norms are difficult to pinpoint from within an organisation. They are almost subconscious. Behaviours though can be identified and therefore changed.

Heritage is history. Focus on the events that shaped the company and interpret as you see fit.

Values are also always thrown about when talking about culture. It’s tragic seeing a company trying to instil values using the same old tired means of communication – start with an awareness building campaign to promote five or so values to the point where adults can recite them parrot fashion. Simply: no. No. No. Values should be handled in a more implicit way, so the behaviours that identify them are promoted as valuable to the company. No one is going to get anywhere vomiting out company values.  Where’s the pride in that?

With pride comes with a sense of purpose.

Social purpose is fundamental for me – it is the reason why the business exists. I am aware this flies in the face of Milton Friedman’s view that the sole purpose of business is to maximize profits – for the benefit of its shareholders. We live in different times now and can see that this focus brings out negative behaviour and conflicts – are profits more important than the environment? Are profits more important than a host nation receiving the tax it is due? Are profits more important than the health of the people who consume your products and services? Companies exist within societies – not outside of them. They must have a largely positive role in the societies it operates in.

The risks of not communicating a clear social purpose are real – if there is a perception that a company does not have a positive role in society governments will sooner or later come knocking. Before that NGOs will.

It seems to me that corporate communications has got stuck in a defensive position. Social purpose is a means of being positive, being on the front foot – attacking critics before they have the chance to criticise. If nothing is said in this area stakeholders will only hear the negative stuff.

There are pitfalls – tokenism is the main one – a few posters and a press release social purpose make they do not.

It’s also a counterpoint to shareholder demands.


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