Corporate purpose

How EY seeks to build a better working world

EY first embarked upon a purpose-driven transformation of its business in 2013 following the appointment of Mark Weinberger as chief executive

When Mark Weinberger was appointed global chairman and chief executive of EY in 2013, his first act was to launch Vision 2020, an ambitious plan to establish the professional services as the global leader in its sector. And at the heart of that plan was a purpose for the business: a ‘North Star’, as he put it, that acted a fixed point to help EY navigate any future change and uncertainties.

He articulated EY’s new purpose as Build a better working world, an ambition that resonated with 230,000 employees around the globe because it was, in effect, what they had already been doing. But the new purpose galvanised employees, making them rethink how they performed their roles. And it also made them feel that their work made a difference to the purpose, so they worked even harder: it became a circular story.

There’s been a purpose-driven transformation of our business,’ explains Valerie Keller, global head of the EY Beacon Institute. ‘It’s about what do we stand for, what do we exist to do, and why do we do it. You can grow for the sake of growth, or you can grow to build a better world.’

John Rudaizky, partner, global branding and marketing lead at EY, is quite clear. This is not a branding exercise. This is a business strategy. From our point of view, at a high level, purpose for us is about how do we put confidence into capital markets. How do we help solve some of the world’s toughest issues.

If you think about the initiatives we have around purpose, they start from the inside. We launched Better begins with you, one of the biggest internal awards programme for our people, where we ask how they have built a better working world. We receive more than 5,000 entries.’

There are four categories – strengthening our community; driving exceptional client service; developing outstanding leaders and teams; and pursuing innovation – and colleagues nominate individuals or teams. Each winner receives $250,000 to further develop their ideas. Last year’s winners included a German team who brought together businesses, government bodies and social groups to help refugees integrate with a workforce and rebuild their lives, and an US-based tax officer who created an efficient and reliable reporting tool.

Every individual can come to work to ask a question and solve it and move the working world forward

Rudaizky continues: ‘We have our Women fast forward programme that considers how we can help accelerate women in the boardroom. Numerous studies have shown that the more women there are in the boardroom, the better the performance. And on the back of the Olympics, we set up the Winning women athletics network; we found women who played sports competitively ended up doing very well in business, yet leaving the sporting world and going into business is tricky. Our mentoring programme helps take athletes into EY and mentor them into the business world.’

Marketer Rudaizky was recruited to help launch EY’s purpose and to share its meaning with its people. ‘Having a white space challenge is an interesting one. How can you unlock Building a better world and make it meaningful to each individual? How do you articulate that? We developed a number of assets and built a campaign around asking better questions. The better the question, the better the answer.

‘Every question we answer, whether that is simply conducting a successful audit, that is our impact in the positive working world. Every individual can come to work to ask a question and solve it and move the working world forward. The world is full of complex issues, but through history the world has moved forward by people asking provocative questions.’

He adds: ‘Ultimately as great consultants, we want to reframe questions in a way that gets people thinking in new and fresh ways. So this also speaks to our people and partners. It is what they do. As we have shared this across our organisation, we are unlocking our purpose and we have seen very strong results. Our internal engagement scores have gone up. Our growth rate has gone up.’

But EY has also shared its purpose journey with its clients. For the past few years, it has convened discussions at the World Economic Forum in Davos for business leaders on the subject of purpose. ‘If we see this as the secret of our transformation, how do we service our clients?’ asks Keller. EY believes its role is about more than just helping clients rethink products or capabilities, but instead about starting them on their journey.

What can we give away to help other organisations on their journey?’ she asks. ‘Other people are thinking about this. We are all faced with the changing expectations of our stakeholders. The business of business is business, and the business of business is to make money for its shareholders, but that’s a short-term gain. We need to think long-term.’

Consequently, EY has launched the Beacon Institute. Its name has a meaning: it is leading companies on their journey to redefine a successful business in the 21st century. ‘We needed a place where leaders could come together and exchange best practice, where we could offer tools and roadmaps for their journeys, where we’re a fellow traveller.’

The business of business is business, and the business of business is to make money for its shareholders, but that’s a short-term gain. We need to think long-term

Those business leaders who are thinking about undertaking such a transformation are asked a handful of questions, such as what is your business’ reason for existence? What inspires a call to action? What is it that you already do?

Change is constant. Transformation is simply a strategic lens, which looks for solutions to problems the businesses already have, such as retaining talent, engaging customers, the regulatory environment and the need to build trust,’ says Keller.

Not every business leader will automatically come on board. ‘It’s a generational piece; they have grown up with a certain construct of what it means to be in business,’ she explains. ‘And are we talking about purpose with a small p or a big P. If their idea of purpose, with a small p, is around profit in the short-term, then that’s okay. But if they are looking at purpose with a big P then they might need to understand the business case for that.

Bigger visions lead to bigger expectations, and they might not quite be ready for that. Having a purpose with a big P means you are held to a higher standard, which brings more risk, and businesses try to avoid risk. We have to show them that they already have risk, but they just don’t recognise it. They need to connect in a different way.’