Written by Kevin O’Neill
Patagonia sells purpose rather than products. While consumers might turn to the brand for its durable outdoor apparel, they stick around for the company’s mission: “We're in business to save our home planet.”
Patagonia’s leaders long ago chose to be the face of sustainability, using their platform when possible to promote environmental and social responsibility. CEO Rose Marcario formally promised via LinkedIn to use the $10 million the company saved in federal tax cuts last year to help the planet. "We are committing all $10 million to groups committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis," she wrote last November.
Marcario’s principles have cultivated deep loyalty among Patagonia workers, lifelong supporters and potential new hires who believe in the company's mission. Not to mention some of the practices put in place by the company’s iconic founder, Yvon Chouinard, perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the company's work policy,
That policy: “When the surf comes up, you drop work and you go surfing.”
While other companies have pledged to put tax breaks into team members’ pockets, Patagonia is raising the bar in a different way: It’s tugging at people's hearts instead of their wallets. Yes, that represents a big shift -- from money to meaning. It's a major indicator that times are changing, and maybe you should be, too.
Companies are choosing their platforms
A generation ago, most people didn’t think about a company’s purpose when they made a purchase or accepted a job offer. But times have changed, and consumers and candidates now ask the big question: If time is my most limited resource, how do I align my talent and time with organizations that are committed to the same important causes as I am?
While all generations are asking this question, millennials in particular prioritize purpose. Business leaders are taking notice, perhaps because Pew Research Center has reported that 75 percent of the workforce will be made up of millennials by 2025 -- with many millennials now holding leadership positions. Research from Cone Communications, meanwhile, found that 64 percent of millennials wouldn't accept a job at a company that they didn't see as having strong corporate social responsibility values.
Businesses that want to build high-performing teams and compete on the 21st century stage must pay attention to what this research suggests. Tech-savvy consumers and candidates can quickly identify and learn about companies whose ideals match their own. It’s a fascinating development that won't end any time soon, because Generation Z, hot on the heels of millennials, is following suit.
Here are a few steps to make your company’s purpose stick:
1. Allow purpose and profit to live together
It’s true: Purpose and profit can coexist. Start to create alignment by ensuring that your why (your purpose) and your how (your operations) are in sync. At the same time, only create products or services that fulfill real needs.
Let’s return to the Patagonia story. In 2011, the company famously ran a full-page ad in the New York Times on Black Friday with a simple statement: “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The advertisement featured the company's best-selling R2 jacket with a clear message against consumerism. "The environmental cost of everything we make is astonishing," the ad reads. “There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don't buy what you don't need. Think twice before you buy anything.”
The result? Record-breaking sales of $10 million -- five times higher than expected -- whose excess profit the company sent off to charitable organizations in support of environmental causes.
2. Crystalize your purpose
Be bold, strong and direct when announcing your company’s purpose. The less murky your purpose, the easier it is for your teams to embrace it and infuse it into their every action and decision.
Realize that sometimes your purpose has to change, something Elon Musk learned at Tesla. Instead of “accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable transport,” Tesla shifted its focus to concentrate on “sustainable energy.” Musk only changed one word, but it made all the difference and broadened the company’s horizons.
3. Remind everyone of your impact
Professional services firm EY (Ernst & Young) sponsored a Harvard Business Review study about the business case for purpose, which it defined as “an aspirational reason for being, which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization and its partners and stakeholders that provides benefits on local and global society.”
For EY, this is more than talk. The company put $20 million into opening its Exceptional Delivery Growth Engine Center in Nashville to further serve society. The hub is a major investment in middle Tennessee and is expected to bring hundreds of high-quality jobs to the area.
As the world changes, your business should change too, by growing around your purpose. Publicize why you make choices, which will draw in the right tribe of customers, team members and promoters.
4. Lead without apologies
While watching a documentary about the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, I was reminded of how important it is for leaders to lead without apologies. In a poignant letter that every service member received immediately before the invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower implored the forces to push toward total victory even against the steep odds. With the “eyes of the world” upon them, only “full Victory” would be acceptable against a battle-hardened enemy.
In a private hand-scribbled note to himself, only to be shared in the event of failure, Eisenhower personally accepted all responsibility. Leadership 101.
Like Eisenhower, great CEOs lead courageously. Be unapologetic about your purpose, and take full ownership of the results. By consistently clarifying the mission and confidently defining success, you will help your team overcome any fear or self-doubt. When your team members move from "me-centered" to "we-centered," they will undoubtedly make extraordinary contributions to your cause.
5. Build a team of fanatics
Find people aligned with your mission. This will make you and your team members more successful. There is a clear link between purpose and positive change: An HBR study found that 89 percent of executives surveyed believed that companies with a shared sense of purpose have greater employee satisfaction, and 84 percent believed that "purpose" makes companies more successful in their transformation efforts.
Can you guess who makes up Patagonia’s workforce? About 1,500 outdoor fanatics, ranging from surfers and snowboarders to mountain climbers and fly fishers. There is a real human need to find a calling, and companies can (and should) be a vehicle for that. A commitment to the well-being of the individual, the company and the world is not only the right thing to do -- it’s a competitive weapon.
An orchestra of all tubas would sound horrible; so would one composed only of violins. But the right combination of sounds -- led by a conductor -- can produce a performance that transcends the ability of any one musician. The CEO or founder of a startup needs to be the conductor of his or her orchestra. When that happens, the team serving under that leader will be able to achieve things far beyond the capabilities of any one team member.
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