People boating in ocean at sunset

Leading with purpose

  • Jane McCormick, Leadership |

As we all strive to cope and adapt to the new reality faced in the wake of COVID-19, many organizations are grappling with the question of how to lead in this environment and how to fulfill their purpose as a business in this strange world in which we now find ourselves. And as individuals, we are also asking ourselves - What is our purpose in all of this?

The purpose of an organization has and always will be tied to how it contributes to society, and that correlation is intensified today. In our recent research[1], CEOs have reported feeling that the recent developments have made them question whether their company purpose meets the standard expected from their stakeholders, with 79 percent saying that they have had to re-evaluate their organization’s purpose as a result of COVID-19. Notably, that same majority (79 percent) say they feel a stronger emotional connection to their organization’s purpose since the pandemic began.

This emotional connection certainly resonates with me personally during this time as I near the end of my term as the Global Head of Tax & Legal at KPMG International. Partly its nostalgia, but also, the purpose of my profession has long been a question I have had to address throughout my career, and I have endeavored to articulate it clearly for the up-and-coming professionals with whom I have worked, particularly in my leadership role.

At the top level, we have a clearly defined purpose at KPMG to Inspire Confidence and Empower Change, and this has tangible meaning within the world of Tax specifically. The way I see it, our purpose has always been to contribute to the effective functioning of tax systems. The importance of this has become even more evident throughout COVID-19. How can governments continue to administer the system and collect tax in an entirely remote world? How can they deliver relief measures through the tax system, and in which circumstances should organizations leverage these reliefs? Tax professionals have a crucial part to play in keeping that show on the road, and it has made me proud to see how our professionals and our clients have done just that. We have been able to quickly mobilize remotely in order to ensure the continued fulfilment of tax compliance processes, submitting returns and tax payments where our clients needed them, supporting tax leaders with accessing government relief when it made sense to do so, as well as advising against relief measures in circumstances where this was not essential for the business. We have also been helping tax and legal leaders rethink their operating models and quickly deploy technology solutions in order to accelerate the digital transformation they need to succeed in the new reality.

We have continued to lead discussions about Responsible Tax. This was already a critical area before 2020, and in the present environment, during a time in which we are all reflecting on our purpose, a socially responsible approach to tax is increasingly important to organizations and the way in which they do business. This is not only a matter of doing the right thing for society, but also doing the right thing to drive sustainable growth. Any business decision today needs to take the broader brand perception, social impact and alignment to an organization’s purpose into account.

If we look across the whole of the environment, social, and governance (ESG) agenda, the way in which businesses conduct themselves during this period will impact public perception of organizations for years to come. How are organizations looking after their workforce and people within their supply chain? What are businesses doing around carbon footprint? How are tax reliefs being used to maintain jobs, deliver needed services to the public and positively impact the societies businesses serve? These are the kinds questions being asked, and taxpayers, both businesses and individuals, will be subject to increasing scrutiny.

Although there are many unknowns about what the future may hold in light of COVID-19, one thing that is clear is we are living through a defining moment. We have a unique opportunity to intentionally live out our purpose ―as businesses, as individuals ― and reshape our identity in the public sphere. I strongly believe that purpose is one thing, among others, that will outlive the current crisis and leave a lasting impression and legacy in the business world.

I’ve often heard the phrase - don’t waste a good crisis. These days, I ask myself the question – How do we as an organization make the best of this situation? I think the answer is in experiencing this challenging time as a journey to something better, not just something to survive. We cannot just operate through it using the maps that we used to navigate the old landscape; we must instead chart new paths to work out how we come out of this as an even stronger organization―one that has grown from the learnings we are gaining along the way. And as I, personally, embark on my next journey as my term at KPMG International comes to an end, I hope that the future professionals in this space can lead with an even deeper sense of purpose than they ever imagined, to help bring us all to a better future.