• Ranjay Gulati


May 2, 2023, Paper: "As part of institutional changes toward more responsible capitalism, firms increasingly articulate a purpose beyond simply profit as a central tenet of their governance. Management scholarship has noted the potential advantages of such purpose-focus for stakeholder trust. However, some consumers, employees, and shareholders have expressed skepticism about the veracity of firms’ purpose claims and raised concerns about purpose-washing. We propose two distinct influence pathways—one cognitive, one affect-based—by which corporate purpose can influence stakeholder trust. First, purpose constitutes a signal of firm intent and quality that expresses a firm’s public, enduring commitments. It fosters cognitive trust by providing clarity and assurance regarding the firm’s future conduct, allowing stakeholders to better calculate relational and reputational risk and the instrumental value of exchange—even when they do not share the firm’s prosocial mission, principles for stakeholder relations, or its conception of virtues. Second, purpose presents a moral appeal to stakeholders. This appeal can stimulate positive affective responses, activate stakeholders’ hedonic and eudaemonic motives tied to their moral identity, and thus provide intuitive cues to trust the firm. By sharply delineating the pathways by which purpose can shape interorganizational trust, we not only illuminate how purpose can yield trust benefits but also when it is ineffectual and causes stakeholder backlash. This clarifies the role of purpose in shaping relational governance and multistakeholder cooperation and contributes to research on strategic and moral commitments as foundations of interorganizational trust."