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A few months ago I was lucky enough to attend my first ever Fast Growth Forum, hosted at Bloomberg’s spacious and pristine London HQ.
An elite selection of founders and CEOs shared their experiences in an excellent series of short, sharp sessions on what it takes to build a successful high-growth business. And if there was one thing they all agreed on it was this: it’s all about the people.
From recruitment strategy and interview technique to bonus schemes and equity options, every one of the speakers had their own take on how to find the very best people and then keep them motivated - one of my favourite talks was titled “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
But despite this deep examination of what is at the beating heart of a successful business, it occurred to me that potentially the single most powerful tool for galvanising an enterprise was altogether missing from the conversation: an inspiring social mission.
My company, Aduna, is part of a rapidly growing movement of “social businesses”, who are out to prove that by having a higher purpose than simply making money or being best-in-class we can exponentially outperform our category competitors – even on the most strictly commercial of metrics. So how does this work? It’s quite simple really.
Today’s consumers and employees (aka human beings) have grown increasingly disillusioned with the state of global capitalism are demanding more from the businesses in their lives. “Not doing bad stuff” is no longer enough; we now want and need businesses that are actually designed to solve the world’s problems.
And this isn’t just my opinion. In his brilliant book Grow, former CMO of Procter & Gamble Jim Stengel proves how 50 of the highest-performing business in the world have left the competition for dead by being centred on improving peoples’ lives rather than making profit. “Maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible,” says Stengel: “They’re inseparable.”
Aduna puts this theory into practice. By creating an inspiring social mission (in our case supporting small producers in Africa) enshrining it at the heart of our business model and enrolling others in it, we have been able to achieve the extraordinary.
By having a higher purpose than simply making money or being best-in-class we can exponentially outperform our category competitors.
For example, in our first year we created a volunteer powered, six month in-store sampling campaign to introduce the African super fruit baobab to UK consumers. The mission-driven campaign wowed retailers by taking baobab from complete obscurity to London’s best-selling super food – saving us £250,000 in the process.
The next person to have her imagination captured was the amazing Karen Ellis, former global creative director of Hugo Boss and Estee Lauder, who helped us create a world-class brand on an absolute shoestring.
If not for our mission, a rare talent like hers would have been way out of reach of our then kitchen-based two-man band. She was followed by several high-capacity senior hires at the top of their games; all were happy to decline much higher-paying roles in exchange for the opportunity to use their skills to make a positive impact. And what they have created for us since is truly outstanding.
The positive impact of our social mission has continued to ripple outwards, into all areas of the business, inspiring overseas partners and distributors to get on board, celebrities to endorse our products without fees and hard-nosed retailers like Holland & Barrett to partner with us in creating a national campaign to Make Baobab Famous.
So for entrepreneurs and business owners puzzling over how to get the very best out of their people, my answer is this: perks and bonuses are useful mechanics, but true inspiration can take you to a higher level. Create a social mission at the heart of your business, enrol others in it, and then watch the magic happen.
Want to learn more about embedding culture in an organisation? Read How to embed culture in a rapidly growing business.