Bill Thomas
Bill Thomas

KPMG International on August 24 released a special COVID-19 edition of its 2020 CEO Outlook survey, which found that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of purpose among top executives.

The firm originally questioned 1,300 CEOs in January and February-- just prior to the lockdowns--and then followed up in July and early August with a “pulse” survey of 315 executives to gauge how their thinking has evolved.

At the beginning of the year, 54 percent of CEOs took a purpose-driven approach to management that was focused on meeting the needs of multiple stakeholders, while 23 percent prioritized “managing for shareholder value.”

In the follow-up, 79 percent of respondents said they feel a stronger emotional connection to purpose than what they felt prior to the pandemic.

KPMG believes the personal and emotional connection to purpose during the pandemic reflects the fact that CEOs face the same health and family challenges as their employees and communities when it comes to COVID-19.

Almost four-in-ten (39 percent) of respondents have had their health, or the health of one of their family, affected by COVID-19, and 55 percent changed their strategic response to the pandemic as a result.

The survey found that CEOs are ready to lead the way in fixing society’s woes as two-thirds of them believe confidence and trust in government is shot.

The pandemic has given companies the opportunity to demonstrate how they can make a real difference to society, but scrutiny of corporate actions has never been stronger.

To maintain the trust of employees, customers and communities, KPMG says CEOs must demonstrate that they live and breathe their organization’s purpose.

“COVID-19 has prompted CEOs to meaningfully re-consider purpose as a key driver of corporate success, both today and in the future,” wrote Bill Thomas, global CEO of KPMG. “CEOs recognize that companies have a role in tackling the critical global challenges facing society. The pandemic has accelerated the call for societal change and made CEOs re-evaluate their purpose.”