At the end of the Great Depression, the unemployment rate was still hovering around 17% and World War II had begun in Europe. It is hard not to reflect on that moment when observing how Americans are feeling today. We are tackling a pandemic, a reckoning on racial and social justice, mass unemployment and the erosion of trust in our institutions against the backdrop of an election and a mass migration to remote working.
But while day-to-day life feels more difficult than ever, we are starting to see glimmers of hope from corporate America, none more so than the evolution of purpose in a business context.
There is now widespread agreement that we cannot return to business as usual and that we need to move to a stakeholder- rather than shareholder-driven economy. Whereas this time last year there was criticism about the “same old voices” — such as the Business Roundtable — talking in an echo chamber about this subject, new drive toward a new type of economy is coming from a cross-section of stakeholders including your customers, employees and investors.
Our research shows 55% of adults are looking for companies to innovate solutions to create a “new normal.”
But if businesses are to lean into these new customer expectations, they also need to be prepared to be challenged. For example, 76% of U.S. consumers think businesses need to make more progress on advancing DE&I in the workplace.
As we have seen, Gen Z, the most activist generation since the Vietnam War, is not afraid to speak out when its members see bad behavior or when an individual or company gets it wrong. Our research also shows 56% of U.S. adults aged 14-22 say companies that do not talk about social justice in their marketing or comms are out of touch.
Lasting change in business, and in society, is going to rely on bravery from leaders to acknowledge mistakes of the past, agility to pivot in the face of changing expectations, resiliency to weather the criticism, sensitivity to deal with generational divides and the commitment to build a better future.