Why trust, purpose and shared values have long-term significance in the gig economy

Mark Griffiths
Head of Social Impact

What significance do trust, purpose and shared values have in the working world, and how can we apply this to the gig economy? 

Being a business with a social purpose has attracted a lot of attention  this year - and we’re only in February. 

Fund manager Terry Smith, CEO of Fundsmith, recently accused Unilever of being distracted by focusing on sustainability and attaching social purposes to its brands. “A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot” he said. Ouch!

Former Unilever CEO Paul Polman (behind firewall) and Will Hutton, an influential advocate of stakeholder capitalism, led the response, arguing that companies are only responding to what consumers,  workers and investors want. As if to evidence this, January also saw the release of Edelman’s annual trust barometer. The report  was headlined with the statement that “societal leadership is now  a core function of business” and stressed three data points:

  • 58% of respondents will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values
  • 60% will choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values, and
  • 64% will invest based on their beliefs and values

I must admit to approaching this topic with caution. I confess to having knocked-up a couple of slides that gently mocked the purpose of Knorr stock-cubes as reinventing food for humanity. Some corporate communications do feel like overreach. 

I also worry about perceptions of smugness. I have chosen to work for a company that is formed around a social purpose, and this is something that has been a constant in my career. 

For example, in a previous role at FTSE 100 Education Company Pearson, I remember my boss pointedly asking why we had Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives given that the heart of the business should be about delivering social value  - in Pearson’s case, to learners. For companies such as Pearson, or Collective Benefits,  that point feels well put to me, but I realise that others don’t have this privilege.

However, let’s strip back the Mayonnaise puns, and go beyond the big concepts of Trust, Purpose, or Shared Value which may act a bit like a Rauschenberg test, allowing anyone to read into it what they want.

But what does being with a business with a social purpose mean? 

To borrow (somewhat) from the MckInsey Insight Institute, it involves: 

  1. Taking a wide view of who your stakeholders are - this would include concerned citizens, suppliers and end beneficiaries alongside the more familiar list of employees, customers and shareholders.
  1. Understanding what stakeholders want, and need - and, doing this on an ongoing basis, using a variety of techniques from data analysis to simply listening.
  1. Delivering value to stakeholders and therefore their trust - acting authentically must be one key way of unlocking that trust. 
  1. Always looking for ways to create, or share, more value - one promising way of approaching this is to think about ways in which you can enhance the capacity of your stakeholders to act in the future. For example, through sharing know-how with your suppliers or strengthening the ability of your employees to look after their own mental wellbeing.
  1. Building an operating model that can sustain long term value creation, for all stakeholders - transparency around goals, progress and results is important here. For instance, Glovo’s Couriers Pledge to increase the benefit rights of their riders is accompanied by a commitment to be independently audited, with all the findings made public.

This list seems to me like simple business sense, if you want to be around for the long-term. Or, as As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, put it in his most recent annual letter, The Power of Capitalism

“Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda … It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper.” 

None of this easy, including for Collective Benefits. But, I think it is the only way to generate sustainable long-term value. 

Without it, you risk losing the drive to do more, and do better, you risk losing legitimacy and trust, or you flounder with no north star to navigate your way.

Finally – on reflection and as a consumer – I am pleased that whoever looks after the Knorr brand is deliberately looking at ways of helping us use their stock cubes to create delicious and healthy food, while also looking at their supply chains, environmental impact and their employees. 

These strike me as good things.

If you want to learn more about about the work we're doing in the gig economy, visit our blog or get in touch at mark@collecitvebenefits.com.

February 10, 2022