Purpose: How Truly Great Leaders Measure Their Companies

A larger purpose isn't just good karma. Leaders who instill their company with a greater mission have more motivated employees and more loyal customers.

Purpose leaders are meaning machines who make our work important instead of banal. They are dealers of hopes and dreams. And they know that they must think large if they are going to affect the world at large.

There is a story that beautifully illustrates this point. Legend has it that Sony founder and CEO Akio Morita met with a small group of men in a burned-out Tokyo department store in the wake of World War II. Morita’s advisors presented a strategy for building a fledgling Sony. The plan would make Sony the number 1 technology company in Japan. However, Morita didn’t see this as the company’s goal. He changed the mission to make Japan the number 1 technology country in the world.

Most organizations today are over-managed and under-led. Purpose leaders don’t manage; they mesmerize. They don’t execute initiatives; they lead crusades. Their brands are not labels but flags that should evoke the kind of patriotism we have for the countries we live in. Think about your country’s flag. Then think about your company’s logo. How can your logo enlist the loyalty and fervor of your national colors? These leaders want to change the way the planet works--or as Apple’s Steve Jobs is widely quoted saying, “to make a dent in the universe.”

If we want to create more jobs, we need more leaders like Steve Jobs. While he was here, Jobs created a world that we had never seen before. And with that universe came new creative professions and expressions. Apple and Pixar animated entire industries, creating work for thousands and dreams for millions. Jobs gave permission to a global generation to think differently. His mixture of precision and passion created a corporate creative combustion at Apple, which formed the most valuable company on earth. Jobs had what the Greeks considered the highest honor, kleos: remembrance in one’s own time.

There’s been a great deal written about other purpose leaders: Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher, Whole Foods Market’s John Mackey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, Google’s Sergey Brin, Avon’s Andrea Jung, and Ben & Jerry’s Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Every one of these individuals leads with purpose; their stories are well documented in countless books and case studies.

My desire, however, is to identify an unusual suspect--a leader in a company large enough to impact all of society positively, someone with a high command of purpose but with a name you might not recognize because of his or her humility.

Procter’s Gamble

I met Procter & Gamble (P&G) CEO Bob McDonald in his conference room on the eleventh floor of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods company on his 32nd anniversary with the company. And the first words out of his mouth were, “Purpose is what has made this company successful for 175 years.”

A former Boy Scout, West Point Cadet, and U.S. Army Captain in the 82nd Airborne Division, McDonald joined P&G because he found the purpose and values of the company--“to touch and improve lives”--to be similar to his own.

Growing up in Gary, Indiana, McDonald recounts being “inoculated in family values, church on Sunday and uncompromising parents when it came to honor and service.” He informs me, “I was measured by what I did for others.” And these early lessons come across clearly in the kind of company he now runs--because this is how this leader measures his brands and people.

As McDonald explains, “West Point taught me that character is the most important trait of a leader. I define character as always putting the needs of the organization above your own.” He also learns to choose “the harder right instead of the easier wrong,” a line straight out of the West Point Cadet Prayer.

McDonald sat in the second row of his class at West Point, a position that indicates that a person is at the top of the class. He graduated thirteenth out of 2,000, which meant he was a Star Man. Reaching the top 5 percent in one’s class comes with the honor of brandishing five stars on your collar. And despite being deployed to desert, jungle, and arctic warfare programs, McDonald managed to complete his master’s in business administration (MBA) program.

Running P&G, however, might be McDonalds’s biggest test of all. He and his leadership team are charged with growing this $80 billion-plus company in the most difficult economic environment of the past several decades, while simultaneously investing for P&G’s future growth, especially in developing markets. It is a difficult balance that often requires McDonald and his team to do what he learned at West Point: to choose “the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”

P&G Pampers the World

Pampers is a role model for purpose. Pampers was first positioned as a disposable diaper, but Pampers turns out to be an indispensable idea for society. A brand with a purpose is no longer distinguished by a point of difference but rather by a point of view. To date, Pampers has raised funds for 300 million vaccines, protecting 100 million moms and their babies in 32 countries. The “1 pack = 1 vaccine” program has helped eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in eight countries, including Uganda and Myanmar.

McDonald is confident. Due to the efforts of P&G and UNICEF working hand in hand, neonatal tetanus will all but disappear by 2015, a target set by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Starting with the overall P&G brand, individual brands add points of view to their points of difference, one by one. Approximately 40 percent of world trade is done by multi-national companies like P&G. Together they have annual sales that are larger than the gross national product of more than one-third of the countries in the world. And according to McDonald, “This gives us the responsibility and opportunity to do more.”

The bottom line according to McDonald is that “purpose attracts people.” To prove it, the company commissioned research firm Millward Brown to conduct a global study of key attributes of best brands, whose findings thrilled McDonald and me. Here is a quote from the 2007 study:

Best brands transcend consumer segments and regional markets by rooting their brand in universal values. They create and occupy a mental space that goes beyond the product or the category. They serve a bigger purpose.

“Purpose creates so much meaning. It turns jobs into callings,” extols McDonald. “That’s because they are truisms. When you find a truism in today’s world, it’s easy to discount it. But don’t walk away from it.”

Truth becomes a prevailing theme in our dialogue. Authenticity is critical in the world of purpose in business. You will quickly learn that if your purpose is not authentic--if it does not come from the ethos of the enterprise--then it will not serve the organization. All too often marketers make up a brand’s purpose based on what they think the market wants. What the marketplace wants is honesty and genuineness. When you are real, people know it, feel it, and buy it.

Want more stories about the importance of business with a purpose? Sign up for the Fast Company newsletter.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from The Story of Purpose: The Path to Creating a Brighter Brand, a Greater Company, and a Lasting Legacy by Joey Reiman. Copyright 2012 by Joey Reiman. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Joey Reiman is founder and CEO of the global consultancy BrightHouse, a company whose mission is to bring purpose to the world of business. His breakthrough purpose methodology and frameworks have been adopted by firms including Procter & Gamble, The Coca-Cola Company, McDonald’s, Nestlé, MetLife, SunTrust, Michelin, and many other Fortune 500 companies. Fast Company named him one of the 100 people who will change the way the world thinks. For more information, visit joeyreiman.com.

[Image: Flickr user Fluffisch]

Add New Comment

1 Comments