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Purpose becomes existential during a crisis

Jul 3, 2020 | Corporate Insights

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Purpose becomes existential during a crisis

It is always important to have a strong company purpose to guide strategy and overall direction – but during a crisis, it becomes existential.

When I stepped into the CEO role at trivago in January, I had no idea the entire world would change so significantly in just six months. A global pandemic has killed nearly 500,000 people and put the brakes on the worldwide economy, in general, and the travel industry in particular. At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded all of us that we need to redouble our efforts to stand up against racism and discrimination wherever it occurs.

However, in January, before this disruptive backdrop, I wanted to make sure our purpose accurately reflected our organization’s culture and the global nature of our business. Businesses need to be purpose driven. Purpose does not only drive the strategic direction of our businesses but also helps us to think about our role in society – something that is today more important than ever. The challenges we face today as a society are also the ones our employees wear heavy on their hearts, and as a leader, one of my most important jobs is to connect employees to our purpose.

When the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shut down the travel industry, we found opportunity in the crisis. Our purpose had become more important than ever before, it helped us to focus on the future, the time when travel would come back , being able to deliver on our purpose again: To empower people to get more out of life.

Today we define our purpose as:

  • Empower: We provide freedom of choice and support these choices with information and transparency. Through our platform and leading technology, we create transparency and enable people to easily engage in planning their next adventure.
  • People: People refers to who we are aiming to empower with our business and company philosophy. This includes travelers, advertisers and our employees.
  • To get more out of life: More refers to what people can enjoy about life through us. We consciously chose “more” over “the most” because we are humble yet confident that we can add value.

We know we are a part of local communities, global society and planet earth. To be actionable, to guide our actions every day, we needed to go deeper than our nine-word purpose statement. Beginning of the year, we evolved the “get more out of life” component of our purpose to include:

  • More perspectives: We strive to open the world to more travelers and inspire them to expand their perspectives. Becoming more aware of different cultures and mindsets and experiencing the world builds the foundation for tolerance and,as we hope, equality.
  • More relationships: Shared experiences unite and nurture trust among people, no matter who they are and where they are coming from. Trustworthy relationships  provide stability and meaning in people’s lives and work as the glue in modern societies.
  • More progress: Placing yourself out of your usual surroundings fosters growth and development. It gives people insight into our dynamic world and opportunities for them to change from within.

Making our purpose more specific has helped us to take strategic decisions in the crisis – looking beyond the current challenges and thriving for the long-term success. it has also reminded us that we have a responsibility to all of our diverse, international workforce to create an environment that enables them to stay flexible, develop and thrive as individuals, and know that the work they are doing has a greater impact on the world.

In this new world we live in, our company purpose explains why we exist and how we create impact. Because we are a part of the travel industry, we know we have a responsibility that goes beyond us. This is why we will continuously seek to drive positive change in society through how we work. Because there is nothing like travel that can connect people and give them new perspectives from diverse countries, communities and cultures.

Axel Hefer, CEO, trivago