Redefining Corporate Purpose – Is It Time For Boards To Adopt ‘Total StakeHolder Value’?

Major challenges such as spiralling inequality and climate breakdown are putting corporations under pressure to rethink their very purpose. The Maturity Institute has developed a ‘responsible business model’ that puts people at the heart of business and produces best value for stakeholders as well as shareholders.

Is your company facing an existential crisis?

To provoke discussion at a recent Procurious CPO roundtable, I suggested that each participant was working for a company that was already in the midst of one.

Why did I say this? From the London Financial Times calling for a re-setting of capitalism to US CEOs shattering the prevailing paradigm of profit maximization, to investment firms in the City of London calling for a renewal of stakeholder-focused value creation, the purpose of corporations is under intense scrutiny – and facing pressure to change.

The questioning of corporate purpose is putting firms into a state of flux.

If shareholders (or owners) are no longer to be accorded primacy in setting strategies designed to deliver the best financial returns, then what else should be driving them? 

How, and for whom, a firm creates value has become a boardroom conundrum like no other.

Text Box: “This topic blew my mind…my question is now – which organizations are going to take the big leap forward on this?” 
Procurious CPO Roundtable participant, November 2019

A Host Of Challenges

Environmental and human problems arising from business and economic activity have continued to surface at an alarming rate. Poverty, human rights, slavery and growing inequality have become more acute.

Climate breakdown is now impacting all around us. Polluting plastic swirls around in our oceans, contaminating marine life, while toxic pesticides find their way into our bodies via food systems, and poisonous air may be undermining our health every day.

Customers, investors and workers are not just asking questions about their involvement with firms that do not seek to address and resolve these problems, they are increasingly avoiding them altogether.

Governments and regulators are also under growing pressure to restrict or revoke licenses where firms do not work to address such issues or fail to provide real benefit to local communities. 

So what should your own company do to meet these challenges?

It is evident that firms that understand how to simultaneously serve society and perform financially will be the ones that can survive and thrive.

Shareholders And Stakeholders: A Common Purpose

Since 2012, the Maturity Institute (MI) has been building a responsible business model that shows how companies can produce the very best stakeholder and shareholder value by putting people at their heart.

By aligning management systems to leverage and realize the potential value of all their human stakeholders, companies can competitively differentiate themselves from their peers.

For procurement heads, this specifically includes suppliers. This is an area in which value-based relationships (as opposed to those driven more by cost parameters), together with appropriate system design, should lead to superior outcomes.

Moving from a ‘shareholder’ to a ‘stakeholder’ business system requires an understanding of what this entails across an organization’s whole system – including workers, customers, investors, suppliers and wider society.

It also requires engaging everyone in the pursuit of a common purpose.

Total Stakeholder Value

Our work is designed to act as a practical guide, to set out a way forward for boards, C-suites and managers to pursue a goal focused on creating healthy organizations through what we call Total Stakeholder Value (TSV).

This is not based on a theoretical perspective but on existing, exemplary ‘mature’ organizations.

At MI, we teach the invisible factors that have enabled organizations like Toyota, Handelsbanken and Mercadona to lead the world in a direction that is in everyone’s interests. These are companies that have a central purpose rooted in serving society.

Alongside financial outperformance, they have consistently delivered the best-quality products and customer service ahead of peers.

In achieving this, they have deliberately designed high-value management systems, including supplier relationships, and have also led others on managing out harm, in either environmental or human terms.

Organisational maturity

To help companies identify how these factors play out within their own organization, we deploy Organizational Maturity Ratings (OMR) to uncover the intrinsic value and risk arising from the company’s whole human ‘ecosystem’.

Our open-source OM30 diagnostic looks at 32 inter-related questions and is able to identify and predict the likelihood of material human value and risk arising from critical causal drivers, such as:

  • Formulating and articulating a corporate purpose of Total Stakeholder Value (TSV) maximization
  • Identifying whether an organization’s business strategy and operating model are predicated on reconciling its (market) value with changing societal values
  • Checking the extent of trust placed in the leadership and management team by customers, employees and other key stakeholders
  • Determining whether the organization is planning to maximize the value it generates from all of its human capital value (both internal and external, e.g. supply chain)
  • Considering the evidence of any never-ending, continuous improvement philosophy being operationalized.

By examining these factors across their whole system, companies can, at last, gauge a baseline of true corporate responsibility and how it affects total value generation.

Strategies For Transition

This also enables executives and managers to identify key strategies that will help the transition to a corporate purpose of TSV – one that drives financial, human and environmental performance that can also be measured and monitored.

For CPOs, the OM30 also has a specific additional application – in helping to assess the suitability of suppliers. Here it acts as a measure of alignment with parent-company culture and human systems, and can be used to determine levels of supplier responsibility and fit, above and beyond any compliance requirements.  

MI is using its methodology and building its evidence base by working with corporations, investment managers and academic institutions to help them understand the relationship between the OM30 and a range of value and risk outcomes.

Recent academic testing of our data has shown:

“…the benefits to shareholders and stakeholders are not mutually exclusive; in other words, the value to business, shareholders, stakeholders and society are aligned. A company can maximize profits and create wealth for shareholders mainly by establishing a mature institution that enhances well-being for all legitimate stakeholders as well as create positive externalities to the environment and the wider society. 

Cambridge Judge Business School, March, 2019 

We can all participate in encouraging, demanding, designing, building and facilitating the process of change that is now necessary; to help create many more mature, exemplary firms that can lead others.

MI is actively helping stakeholders to play their part.

Stuart Woollard is Council Member at the Maturity Institute. The Mature Corporation – A Model of Responsible Capitalism, co-authored with Paul Kearns, is available with a 20% discount using code Corporation20 from Cambridge Scholars Publishing https://www.cambridgescholars.com/the-mature-corporation.