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Future of the Corporation Research - Corporate Purpose

Future of the Corporation Research - Corporate Purpose

There is strong consensus that businesses need to have a sense of purpose and clear understanding of their role in society, but what is meant by corporate purpose? Is it an important and distinct concept in promoting responsible business? How do companies define and operationalize corporate purposes, and how do they implement them in achieving socially as well as privately beneficial outcomes? How can businesses be more effective at articulating their purpose and the underlying contract between society and the corporation? How can businesses redefine what their purpose is to help contribute to the prosperity of everyone in society within a sustainable environment? Could the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals help define and shape corporate purpose in the future? What are stakeholder expectations of corporate purpose? Does corporate purpose affect recruitment and staff retention? How can businesses create and ensure they have effective and meaningful corporate purpose? Do businesses need a more philosophical approach to corporate purpose that can better chime with increasingly shared values within society?

PhilosophyBusiness and management • Henry Richards

What is corporate purpose, and why does it matter for society?

Lead Researcher(s) Institution
Professor Nien-hê Hsieh
Dr David Rodin
Dr Marco Meyer
Harvard Business School

The research will provide a literature review of research on corporate purpose, focusing on literature in philosophy, business ethics, management studies, and organisational psychology.  It will develop a concrete picture of how corporations conceive of and articulate their purpose.  It will contrast stakeholder expectations of corporate purpose by conducting case studies of three large corporations, including perspectives of senior management, employees, customers, and civil society actors.  From a theoretical perspective, the group seeks to unify the current theoretical and narrow approaches to corporate purpose. It will approach the social purpose of an organisation as an account of what makes the existence of the organisation desirable from the perspective of society.   Additionally, it will address the practical dimensions of forging and pursuing a corporate purpose seriously by asking how companies define and operationalise corporate purpose, and how their efforts are received by employees, customers, and civil society actors. It aims to distil different approaches corporations take in this regard into a richly illustrated framework for analysing different elements of corporate purpose.

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