Could you be the ethics officer or corporate philosopher of your organisation?

Laila Pawlak of SingularityU suggests those roles could be the jobs of the future. A future, that is, in which we put sustainability at the centre of everything we do, making the sustainable development goals (SDGs) our most important ‘to do list’.

Laila was one of our keynote speaker at last week’s European Communication Summit in Berlin. Her address was part of a noticeable common thread, in which purpose played a central role. It was inspiring to see that what was once the domain of civil society now seems to be the common narrative of the business world. And can it indeed be that the communications function is driving the much needed change in the world? Are the CCOs indeed the ones who are posing the awkward questions that so urgently need to be answered?

Pursuing transformation in the face of information overload

Sitting among the Summit audience, something nagged me about parts of the conversation. The phrase ‘purposeful capitalism’, for example - isn’t that an oxymoron? Sure, there are areas for ‘win-win’, combining business success and purposeful societal contribution, but isn’t that all a bit too incremental? If we want to meet the dream that Greta Thunberg is pursuing and prevent her becoming just another poster child, then we need to pursue transformation. That means moving from words to action: to reference Laila Pawlak, “having great organisational transformation ideas is not enough. You need to tackle the immune system of the organisation, which will fight you every step of the way.”

What makes the quest for purpose even more challenging (and possibly more feasible, as well), is the fact we are living in a digital age in which information overload is such that the media can be described as a ‘weapon of mass distraction’. There could not be a clearer indication that the traditional communications function needs to evolve. In his opening keynote, Dr. Rand Waltzman suggested mass disinformation is here to stay as a chronic illness; several other speakers referenced the exponential rate of change we’re living through. Therefore, we need to build resilience. What would that resilience look like?

Basing leadership on a deeper wisdom

Throughout the Summit, different solutions were put forward: for example, in the first of several Summit panels, HSBC’s Pierre Goad called for a more critical relationship to the social media giants, and for a commitment to pay for traditional media. A less obvious contribution to creating sustainable progress lies at a deeper level: Egon Zehnder’s Gizem Weggemans referenced the four pillars that will determine the true communications leader: curiosity, insight, engagement and determination.

Listening carefully to what was suggested by some of the presenters takes us even deeper and beyond communications, as it applies to overall leadership. It was framed differently by the different speakers: “sensing” (Gizem Weggemans), “mindful walking” (Mounira Latrache), “rehumanising” (Laila Pawlak). It is all to do with searching our deeper wisdom. Transitioning towards a purposeful world will only happen when we acknowledge the existence of this wisdom and work with it. Taking time to create time and reflecting to improve our work. Isn’t purpose really about finding one’s moral compass? And could it be that the only way for organisations to prosper in a true purpose-driven way – beyond short term goals and profit, taking future generations and Mother Earth into consideration – is to stimulate their employees to find their own moral compass and to join together in the journey of sustainability?

One of the remarkable things about the EACD community is the fact that we are always pushing the boundaries, always searching for ways of doing things better, challenging ourselves. That is what I truly love. I see a huge opportunity – dare I say responsibility – for the communications function to be the one that drives an organisation forward, to a purpose-driven one. Nothing is stopping us: as OECD’s Anthony Gooch put it so eloquently at the Summit: “nobody has the monopoly on doing the right thing”.