The Tech Industry is Leading in Business Purpose, What Can We Learn from Them?

The pandemic has forced businesses, CEOs, and humans in general, to reconsider what is important to them, how they want to spend their time, and what they want to do in the future. In fact, my firm’s 2021 CEO Purpose Report, conducted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic shows that 79% of CEOs surveyed said the pandemic has had an impact on the way they run their business.

Interestingly, we uncovered that tech leaders felt this more than any other sector, with 85% of tech CEOs saying the pandemic has impacted the way they run their business.

To that end, tech CEOs are firing on all cylinders, accelerating efforts around long-term value creation (41%), corporate responsibility (41%) and corporate governance (40%), as well as company purpose (37%).

Leaders in the tech industry stand by purpose and can be looked to as examples for other industries. Those tech leaders with a purpose statement stalwartly believe that purpose is integral, driving initiatives across their business, building connection to customers, and demonstrating to them that they share the same values.

What do you stay true to?

In a recent interview series I conducted for Forbes, Julie Liegl, Chief Marketing Officer of the business communications solution Slack, painted a picture of a purpose-led company that can adapt to serve its customers in uncertain environments. As companies across industries pivoted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Slack was determined to pivot without straying away from its core purpose.

While the company’s chat-based email alternative seems like an obvious winner in the new world of remote work, Leigl explained that while Slack certainly benefitted remote teams before 2020, the software wasn’t initially designed to be a targeted remote working solution. Pre-COVID-19, Slack’s culture “wasn’t really about remote work,” Liegl told me. “We hadn’t done a ton of work around why it’s so great for remote teams.”

But, things change, and so too did the demand for the kind of services that thrive both in the office and out. Slack was committed to meeting its customers in their new work environments in a way that felt authentic, intuitive, and genuinely helpful - the same principles that guided the company before 'new normal' ever entered our collective vocabulary.

Amidst mass pivots, it felt more essential than ever to consider how Slack would serve its stakeholders with purpose. Liegl and her team reflected on big questions to guide Slack’s own pivot: “What do you stay true to? How do you stay attuned to what you know is true and core to your brand? And how much do you respond to the shifting world outside?”

If you ask me, the answer to all Liegl’s questions is the same: business leaders stay true to their organisation’s purpose. When they do this, they have a rubric - through their purpose - that helps them stay attuned to what is true and core to their brand. And crucially, their purpose provides a guiding north star to help them decide how they respond to uncertainty.

Prioritising through purpose

In response to the pandemic, Slack’s enduring purpose to 'change the way we work' guided the company to come together as human beings first. By offering free one to one consultations with businesses in crisis all over the world, Slack was able to help organisations adapt and develop plans to keep work flowing and employees engaged, even amidst unprecedented international uncertainty.

As a result of these consultations, “we really leaned into and pushed the limits on how we can use our product to change the way we work,” Liegl told me. 

And at the core, because Slack’s 'pivot' in how it serves its customer-base is so rooted in its purpose, Leigl doesn’t feel as if the company’s priorities have actually changed at all. “I just think the way we get there is different,” she said.

Business for good

At the same time that the team at Slack was using its purpose to guide a communications pivot, domain registrar and web hosting company GoDaddy was also thinking about how their customers’ experiences of working from home necessitated a change of approach.

The celebrated new campaign, 'Open We Stand', was borne out of the deepened solidarity GoDaddy’s creative team felt with their small business clients during the early days of shelter-in-place orders.

When I asked Fara Howard, CMO of GoDaddy, how organisational purpose played into this campaign, she told me confidently that “Open We Stand is the manifestation of our corporate mission, which is to empower everyday entrepreneurs.”

GoDaddy worked with over 70 partners on the Open We Stand program to support small businesses. The novel offering gave GoDaddy’s customer-base a platform to gain business with the backing of the major tech company - a game-changer during a time when shops and other small businesses were closed. The web hosting platform also launched new E-commerce tools to empower entrepreneurs to pivot their businesses online where possible, and launched its first-ever digital event, the GoDaddy Open 2020.

Howard is proud that purpose guided GoDaddy to do 'business for good' amidst the incredibly trying time for its core customer-base of everyday entrepreneurs. Through adapting its offerings and marketing to meet entrepreneur’s needs amidst the pandemic, GoDaddy was able to use its purpose to empower its customers when they needed it the absolute most.

Shifting ground, stable purpose

Tech is undeniably ahead of the curve when it comes to purpose: stories like Leigl’s and Howard’s prove it, and our data underlines it: more than one in three tech CEOs (36%) say they already have a purpose statement. This is higher than any other sector, and higher than the global average of 27%.

Plus, more tech CEOs than other industry CEOs are already educating their existing workforce and new hires on their organisation’s purpose.

With companies like Slack and GoDaddy setting an example and communicating how they are going about enacting their purpose with the business world at large, there is hope that other industries will follow suit by developing and enacting their own purpose.

I’m not saying tech leaders have it all in the bag - Slack’s Leigl aptly observed that the pandemic was only one of many world-changing events businesses had to confront and respond to in the past year. “It wasn’t a year where one thing changed everything,” she said. “A lot of things changed everything. And each time you felt like you kind of had it figured out, the ground would shift again.”

What I am saying is that tech companies seem to have a head start - as innovators with vision, tech leaders intuitively understand the power of purpose, and the rest of us could learn from their agile yet rooted approach to determining what they stay true to.