How to Evaluate the Impact of Corporate Purpose

Confronted by employees seeking meaningful work, customers demanding sustainable and traceable products, and investors who want companies to do both well and good — while inequality is rising and climate change is an increasingly dire threat — business leaders are redefining the purpose of their organizations. These days, one is hard-pressed to find a major company that has not incorporated the greater good into a statement that lays out the organization’s reason for existing. But if corporate purpose is to be more than window dressing and deliver on the promise of an engaged, motivated workforce and more loyal customers, companies must develop a capacity that is still lagging for most: They must be able to accurately assess the results of executing their purpose-driven strategy, particularly when that strategy extends to making a positive social and environmental impact. If companies measure this at all, they often outsource it to consultants, silo it in a corporate social responsibility function, or even delegate it to an intern. This attitude has led to suboptimal approaches that fail to look holistically at the core business, are not taken seriously by key stakeholders, or produce poor data that is not actionable.

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