Purpose creates recovery, societal benefits

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted business leaders and workforces globally to ask some existential questions: what does our organisation stand for? What is our purpose? And really, why are we here?

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For ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott, finding that sense of purpose was something the bank had already explored over a number of years before the pandemic hit. I’d heard Elliott say an organisation with purpose at the centre of the way it's run is really pursuing the ultimate profitability strategy because ultimately that's what customers and the community expect.

"A thriving community needs, in our view, support and a bank that can support them through those really difficult times.” – Shayne Elliott

I recently spoke to him as part of MinterEllison’s Transforming Business podcast series to explore this idea. He outlined how the bank looked to its past to map its future.

“[Our purpose] wasn't something I inherited. It wasn't here when I arrived and neither did I write it,” Elliott explains. He says the bank went through an “archaeological dig” into what had sustained the business over the past 200 years and eventually crafted the phrase: to shape a world where people and communities thrive.

Sense of purpose

It was a clear need to focus on this purpose, according to Elliott, that really informed the bank’s response to COVID-19.

“Communities and individuals are worried about their future and their safety,” Elliott says. “A thriving community needs, in our view, support and a bank that can support them through those really difficult times. As a result of that sense of purpose, we are acting and behaving differently, and our customers appreciate it.”

Elliott explains this sense of purpose also extended to the way in which the bank’s staff rallied to support each other as they quickly moved to 95 per cent of employees working from home globally.

“In a time of crisis, [in companies with] good culture, people bind together,” he says. “They become more supportive of each other and more respectful and empathetic of their team members’ situations

“In a crisis it's really clear what we have to do [and] people love that clarity. In more normal times… we tend to overwhelm people with lots of competing priorities and messages. Some of those things have been really great lessons.”

He explains the real challenge for an organisation like ANZ is figuring out how to retain that clarity and empathy in the post_COVID future.

Risk aversion

Elliott says he expects to see a permanent shift in some consumer behaviours and expectations – accelerating trends that were gaining momentum prior to the pandemic.

“There was already a trend of people moving away from needing to go to a branch and preferring to do their banking on a phone,” Elliott explains. “This has accelerated dramatically because people didn't feel safe being out or branches had to close temporarily. There was also already a move [away] from cash to credit or debit cards [and] all of these things have accelerated.”

Elliott also expects both individuals and businesses to become more risk averse as people cope with the increased stress that comes from dealing with this crisis.

“That doesn't mean everybody will be wearing a mask for the next 20 years, hopefully, but I think people will be more thoughtful about hygiene and human interaction,” he says. “It has [also] raised bigger questions about the risk profile of companies.”

Elliott says although ANZ had previously identified pandemics as an operational risk, the core assumption was there would be a pandemic somewhere, not that there would be a pandemic everywhere.

He stresses, however, that although their plan was never intended to be a step-by-step manual for dealing with a pandemic, it served the bank well as a starting point for thinking through some potential scenarios.

Annette Kimmitt is CEO and Managing Partner at Minter Ellison

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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