What do you know about "raison d'être", a powerful success factor in business?

Published on 19/03/2021
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France’s PACTE law of 22 May 2019 aims, among other things, to develop the role of businesses in society by integrating social and environmental concerns into their strategy. In other words, by establishing their raison d’être or mission. But, almost 2 years after it came into effect, businesses have been slow to engage. Many have limited themselves to communication initiatives without any real action! But, as you can imagine, the public health and economic crisis is intensifying the expectations of citizens, forcing businesses to take more concrete steps.

On Monday 18 January 2021, EDHEC Alumni shed some light on this notion of raison d’être during a webinar moderated by  Bruno Gérard (EDHEC Master 1985), Ambassador of the EDHEC Alumni HR & Management club. Drawing on his expertise, here are 6 questions & answers to tell you more about this concept!

1/ What does raison d’être mean for a business?

It’s the reason why the company exists, it’s what gives it a societal and environmental role. For a business, establishing a raison d’être requires it to engage in introspection and challenge itself. But their actions must match their discourse to avoid limiting their contribution to empty words and communication stunts. Bruno says this raison d’être must assert the company’s intention to shift towards long-term solutions that meet the needs of society and the environment.


2/ What does the PACTE legislation say about formalising one’s raison d’être

  • All companies must take social and environmental concerns into account (this is what is meant by CSR).
  • Companies willing to do so can enshrine their raison d’être in their articles of association, and allocate the necessary resources to it.
  • Pioneering businesses can call themselves “companies with a mission” by declaring a mission that is in the collective or general interest and putting in place a governance structure.


3/What are the main raisons d’être of businesses?

In 2020, B-Harmonist conducted a semantic analysis of the raisons d’être identified by 60 companies. Verdict: the most common notions relate to service, the customer, sustainability and responsibility. France Stratégie also published a study in September 2020 that reached the same conclusion: social and environmental concerns are predominant in expressions of raison d’être.

Bruno cites examples of iconic companies including MAIF and Yves Rocher, companies with a mission for whom societal or environmental concerns have been part of their make-up since they were founded. For MAIF, this means establishing a close and attentive relationship between its customers and staff. For Yves Rocher, it’s about connecting with nature. Others include Carrefour, Danone, Michelin, Johnson & Johnson and Le Slip Français, although these companies are still few in number.


4/Why promote a raison d’être now?

The raison d’être concept is now well-established in France and it reflects an underlying trend driven by the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.

Trying to have a positive impact on society has become essential for businesses, because since 2008 the capital-work-market triumvirate has been constantly called into question:

  • Deterioration in the economic situation.
  • Growth of inequality.
  • Criticisms of capitalism.
  • Societal and environmental challenges.
  • Growing defiance towards the political and corporate worlds.
  • Lower levels of staff commitment.

So expectations on brands and companies are very high. People want them to stick to their commitments, recognise their errors, be transparent and take the environment and health concerns into account. And the public health crisis has only accentuated these issues. 

So highlighting an environmental and societal role is a way to generate trust.


5/ How should businesses set about defining and energising their raison d’être

According to Bruno, defining a raison d’être means answering one key question: “Why?” In other words, what would be lacking if this company did not exist? Here are the first stages:

  • Conduct an evaluation to determine the right alignment.
  • Map out the stakeholders, proofs and benefits.
  • Build a narrative about the company’s history (DNA, culture, values, etc.) and about its target customers.

To be real, the raison d’être must be embodied by all of the company’s stakeholders: top executives, management and staff. Some companies even establish shareholders (an approach that is highly developed in Nordic countries). There are around 15 in France, including NAOS and Mediapart.

Here are Bruno’s recommendations on making a raison d’être last: 

  • Make your values tangible.
  • Question the organization.
  • Redefine managerial roles and missions.
  • Make the staff experience seamless.
  • Formally enshrine the rights and duties of staff.
  • Establish a charter of trust.
  • Oversee commitments by putting in place a monitoring committee.
  • Make sure the raison d’être evolves through an ongoing improvement approach.


6/ Can a raison d’être be a driver of success? Yes!

Introducing a raison d’être is beneficial for the involvement of all stakeholders (staff, clients, partners, suppliers, shareholders and potential investors), because it generates something meaningful.

It’s also a driver for the business because it represents a competitive advantage, makes the company attractive, facilitates innovation, attracts and retains talented people, and increases levels of staff commitment.

To go even further, companies can seek certification (Positive Workplace, B Corp, LUCIE, etc.). These labels bring credibility and promote the company’s image. 

This is why Bruno insists:

“Many owners of companies of all sizes are wondering if it might be time for them to define and formalise their raison d’être and make it a real factor in their performance. Even more so in the world we’ve been living in for the last year.”

As you can see, it is becoming increasingly important to use raison d’être as a way for companies to contribute to collective well-being, something it would be a shame to neglect.  

As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Alumni community for questions or advice. Our webinars are an opportunity to learn more about many subjects and discuss fascinating topics: be sure to check the schedule of events and sign up! Also learn about our professional and local clubs and join one that suits you.


Interested in delving deeper into this subject for your business or an entrepreneurial project?

Bruno is a consultant in "raison d’être", instructor and facilitator in collective intelligence.

Contact : bruno.gerard@digital-impact-consulting.com  +33 6 74 78 03 15


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