Five Sustainable Success Levers

Five Sustainable Success Levers

Nov 20, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Kevin Cashman

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

Every leader faces a daunting aspiration: Generate success now and then continuously accelerate itIt is hard enough to be successful and even more challenging to keep it going in today’s dynamic, change-rich world. As tough as our mandate is, I would suggest a sustainable simple success formula: purpose generates success, performance sustains it and ethics insures the first two endure.

Purpose is the creative force that elevates leaders and teams to move from short-term success to long-term significance. It engages and energizes workforces, customers, vendors, distributors, communities and stakeholders around a common mission, something bigger than products and larger than profit. It is the foundational meaning that unleashes latent energy and motivation as it generates enduring value. Purpose answers the essential question: Why is it so important that we exist? Ethics answers the enduring question: How are we in continuous service to our constituencies?    

As leaders, we have a responsibility to address this significant question,Why is it so important that we exist?” With this question, we courageously face who we are and how we are in the world. As we reflect on it and the battle that rages for the soul of capitalism, we also may want to consider: How do we view capitalism and the role of business? Will we define business solely in terms of transactional financial levers, designed to accumulate capital, or will we apply our vision to shape business as a more universal lever that serves a higher, more sustainable purpose? Will the top 2% serve the 98%, or will the top 2% dominate, control and be served by the 98%?

Unilever takes the universal levers of purpose and ethics and tries to serve the 100%. Their core values are much more than aspirational concepts. Their purpose statement is more than a slogan. Yes, they struggle to live it at times, but the constant struggle to serve is a worthy value-creating goal. As purpose-driven leaders remind themselves over and over again: purpose and ethics are not perfection, but the pursuit of service-fueled value.

Dedicating themselves to the core values of “integrity, responsibility, respect and pioneering,” Unilever’s core purpose keeps them focused on succeeding “with the highest standards of corporate behavior towards everyone we work with, the communities we touch, and the environment on which we have an impact.” There is no company-centric charge to be “#1 based on financial metrics” or “winning is all that matters” in their purpose statement. Their considerable success is driven by an ethical conviction to serve.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, expressed his genuine belief and conviction in purpose-driven leadership and the power of service a Huffington Post article, “Doing Well by Doing Good”: “The power of purpose, passion, and positive attitude drive great long-term business results. Above all, the moment you realize that it’s not about yourself but about working for the common good, or helping others, that’s when you unlock the true leader in yourself.” When purpose becomes personal, it becomes real, powerful and ethical.

Recently, Unilever recruited Marijn Dekkers, another purpose-driven leader, to be Chairman of its board. Like Polman has done through his leadership, Marijn created significant enduring value during his tenure as CEO of Bayer. His leadership brought vitality and relevance to Bayer’s purpose; to their culture, their leadership growth, and to their market value. Commenting on this purpose-driven value creation, Marijn shared with me recently, “It is relatively easy to pull financial levers to generate short-term profit. Many people can do that. What is challenging, and the real skill of leadership, is to inspire sustainable growth by relentlessly serving employees, customers, vendors, communities, and the planet. When purpose becomes the generator of profit, then long-term success, service and sustainability have a chance to be realized.”

Expanding on the value-generating power of ethics and purpose, Marijn shared five levers for sustainable leadership success:

• EBITDA Never Inspires: “After a few years, no one remembers the number, but everyone remembers the contributions the products and services have made to the lives of people. Spreadsheets rarely inspire; stories of service move us in a memorable manner.”

• Take the Extra Steps: “Do the right thing before you are forced to do so. Purpose is real, and ethics is operating, when companies go beyond what they need to do for employees, vendors, customers and communities. Even 2% more effort on purpose creates multiple returns for everyone involved. It takes so little but returns so much. Being a good citizen on the things we do not make money on, can actually create more lasting value in the long run.”

• Build Authentic Reputation: “Reputations are not merely a public relations exercise. Reputations are built through ensuring that we are customer and enterprise-serving and not self-serving. Corporations are too often seen as self-serving, so attending to real-service is the counter-balance to negative reputations. The equity of our brand is built through living our purpose in very tangible ways.”

• Do the Right Thing When No One is Looking: Marijn shared a recent story of cycling along a river and wanting to dispose of his stale chewing gum. He realized that there were at least three options: 1) Throw it on the grass and mindlessly riding on; 2) Wait for a trash bin to come along and throw it at the bin but very likely someone would need to clean up the mess later;  3) Stop to find a leaf, roll up the gum in the leaf and dispose of the gum properly. “It took a small sacrifice to find the leaf and carefully dispose of it. But it was clearly the right thing to do.” Real ethics show up in both small and big acts of service.

• Remember Others: “Ethics is remembering others. Lack of ethics and purpose is placing self over service. As a CEO this is tough, since there are so many “others” to consider. But making the attempt to serve as many “others” as possible is the ethically fueled purpose of leadership.”

Purposeful, ethical leadership is a conscious act of self-examination to insure that our behaviors are really serving people – especially when no one is watching.

What steps can you take today to inspire purpose and remember ethics?

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