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Creating a mission-driven culture of innovation

A successful business model looks far beyond a single transaction

Creating a mission-driven culture of innovation
Sanjiv Yajnik, president of financial services at Capital One

Consumers today increasingly value authenticity and reward brands rooted in social good. But what does it mean to foster a mission-driven company culture? What are the advantages and potential pitfalls? The recent Fast Company Agenda 2022 event featured “Leading with Purpose,” a moderated conversation between Sanjiv Yajnik, president of financial services at Capital One, and Tom Cortese, cofounder and chief operating officer at Peloton. They discussed their organizations’ journey to create a mission-driven culture of innovation and why innovating on behalf of customers matters. Here are four takeaways from their conversation.

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1. You can’t fake it.

Authenticity is paramount. For a company to be truly mission-driven, that mission must be woven deeply into its fabric. It needs to be what motivates the company, from the products or services it offers to the way it looks out for its associates, customers, and communities. “It’s not like you sit in a room and think about what the purpose should be to suit the business,” Yajnik says. “It’s the other way around.” Indeed, putting the mission first helps companies attract and build diverse teams that can rally around purpose, unlocking the promise embedded in that purpose in unexpected and impactful ways. It can also serve as a crucial touchstone to inform business decisions, serving as a “north star” when evaluating the value the company brings to the customer.

For Peloton’s Cortese, a company must be sincere in its mission, otherwise, people will see right through it. “Customers know what brings value to them, and they know what doesn’t,” he says. “You can’t, and you shouldn’t, fool a customer.”

2. It’s about long-term customer relationships.

Because mission-driven companies are after more than short-term gain, they have to think beyond the initial transaction with the customer. As Yajnik shared, from its earliest days, Capital One recognized that tools for success can look very different depending on a customer’s unique circumstances. As he puts it, “changing banking” means more than just building reliable products—though, of course, it’s important to nail that too. It’s about using new technology, information, and analytics in innovative ways to make banking easier and more accessible to more people and businesses, and answering the question, “If we were creating a product for our family member, how would we [do] it?”

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Peloton’s mission is to help people develop healthy habits and make it easy for them to work out. It’s not enough to sell customers exercise equipment—and the company’s subscription-based business model reflects that. “After that first transaction, we need to continue to show value. We need to maintain a long-term relationship,” Cortese says.

Peloton does this by continuing to innovate and adapt. The company expands and hones its offerings to give subscribers new reasons to log on to their app and, ultimately, new reasons to work out. “Fitness has often been about willpower,” Cortese says. “If we could make fitness something that you enjoy, something that is fun, we create value for the consumer. It’s something they genuinely wanted.”

3. Be data-informed, not just data-driven.

Because data feeds innovation, it is important to mission-driven companies. But data requires human judgment to make it a useful tool. Without a core commitment to putting people first and serving all customers, Yajnik cautions, purely following data “may not be the best thing for customers.”

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Cortese echoes the point. “We use [data] to inform our decisions, not necessarily to drive them,” he says. “We are a team of folks with a great deal of knowledge and intuition, and we’re connected emotionally to our members. When you marry that with the data, that’s when we get the great innovations that we’re looking for.”

4. Motivated employees lead to happy customers.

Both Capital One and Peloton use net promoter scores (NPS)—which track how likely customers are to recommend products or services to others—to measure customer loyalty. But they also pay attention to how their employees are feeling. (Peloton even looks at a metric called employee NPS, or eNPS.) “We believe that customers are never going to be fully motivated and happy if our associates are not fully motivated and happy,” Yajnik says. “So, we actually measure both of those simultaneously.”

Because a mission isn’t transactional, mission-driven companies can’t operate purely on self-interest. They’re fueled by enthusiasm for the mission itself. If employees are inspired, it’s more likely they will embody the mission in their work—and in their interactions with customers. And if your data tells you that your customers are dissatisfied, the issue might be unmotivated employees. As Yajnik puts it, “Very rarely would you see that the customer is delighted, but the associates aren’t.”

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