Episode #12: making Purpose matter
What do Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, Wholefoods and the Red Cross have in common? Chief Purposologist Haley Rushing! Listen to her experience with making purpose matter for the last 20 years.
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Sider, A. (2020). Southwest Airlines to Challenge Rivals at O'Hare and in Houston. The Wall Street Journal. [Accessed 27 October 2020].
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Timothy: Hello everybody, and welcome to episode 12 of the Conscious Capitalists with myself, Timothy Henry, and my partner in arms, crime, and in momentum to make the world a better place, Raj Sisodia. Hi, Raj.
Raj: Hi Timothy, good to see you again. Yeah. It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 weeks that we’ve been doing this.
Timothy: Yeah. Wow. The dirty dozen. We’ve got there. Well, this week, we have a wonderful opportunity to speak with someone who’s been involved with the Conscious Capitalist movement from the beginning, and who also played a very substantive role in supporting the book that you and I wrote called the Conscious Capitalism Field Guide. And that is somebody who, if you stopped and you said what do Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, Walmart, BMW, and the American Red Cross have in common, Raj, any guesses?
Raj: I guess you need a lot of money for all of them. I don’t know.
Timothy: To buy the stock? Well, they actually have our guest today, Haley Rushing, who has the wonderful title, my favorite title. I actually call her the queen of purpose, but her official title is The Chief Purposologist at the Purpose Institute. And Haley is known among other things for being the person who co-wrote the book, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For, and that was sort of one of the first and most important books, I think, written about the difference between a regular brand, and a purpose-driven brand, and the importance of purpose. So without any further ado, here’s our guest today, Haley Rushing. Hi, Haley.
Haley: Hello, Timothy. Hello, Raj. I’m so happy that you’re having me on your show. You all are two of my favorite people in the whole world, so I’m super happy to be here.
Timothy: It’s great. And, Raj, maybe you want to open up our session today?
Raj: Sure. Yeah. So of course, Haley is a dear friend to all of us, and one of the most special people that we know. And somebody who truly embodies an integrated life, I would say, somebody who is living her purpose and helping others to discover theirs and helping others to discover theirs. And of course, it’s always interesting to hear about people’s journeys. How did you end up in this line? How did you find your vocation? How did you discover your own purpose before we get into the nitty-gritty of how do we implement purpose in today’s businesses?
Haley: Well, it’s interesting. I think of my purpose is to get to the heart of what matters most so life can be built in the service of it. And I think about that for myself in my own life. I’m always trying to explore and reassess what is at the heart of what I care about most, and am I living my life in a way that is advancing that or serving that. I try to do that with my girls and try to figure out what’s at the heart of what matters most to them, and then how can I create the conditions and opportunities for them to live into that more. And I certainly have always tried to do that with my clients, to think about if we talk to enough people in this organization, can we find the kind of common thread that units everybody. So, what is at the heart of this business? And then, how do you start creating a business model, and a culture that is 100% aligned with what matters to people in that organization. So, that’s my personal purpose.
And I think I came to that because I spent probably the first decade or so, or maybe two decades of my career really focusing on my strengths and what I was good at. And what I was really good at was looking at tons of data. My background’s cultural anthropology, so I love like studying human behavior. I love research. I love understanding what motivates and drives people. So, I was always really good at looking at lots of data and distilling it down to what’s the most essential insight that’s emerging from all of this data. I think early on in my career, I was rather agnostic on how that data, then, was applied in the world. And over time, I came to realize that my heart was really yearning to make sure I was using that strength for analysis, and research to actually be of service in some way that was important to me and meaningful to me. And so, when I actually just looked at the type of work that I was doing that I actually found personally meaningful, it started to just kind of become very evident that I really enjoyed working on behalf of organizations, usually with pretty visionary founders.
I mean, Timothy, when you read the list of companies that I’ve had the extraordinary good fortune to work for, I mean Herb Kelleher, Sam Walton, John Mackay, all of these people taught me everything I know about purpose because they were just wired to build organizations that made a difference. And to the extent that I was able to use my skills, and kind of getting inside their companies, and making what had implicitly animated them from day one, like how do we codify that, how do we make it explicit, how do we articulate it, so that as you go forward, you are destined to do it in even greater ways, and not just kind of lucky to, based on the founder’s personal passion. But anyway, that’s a little bit, there was just an emerging sense of I want to use the skills that I have to help people build lives that are congruent with what matters.
Timothy: I love it.
Haley: It matters to them.
Timothy: That’s a great way of articulating that. And that’ll be one of the themes today. How do we make purpose matter in the organizations that we start to work with on these topics, and one of the things that hit me was last week in The Wall Street Journal, there was an article about one of our favorite airlines we’ve already mentioned, Southwest Airlines, getting aggressive and moving into Chicago O’Hare Airport and into Houston to challenge United and American in two of their core hubs. And it was noticed that, wait a minute, this is a time when the travel industry and the airline industry is supposed to really be suffering, and yet here’s Southwest Airlines going on the offensive of moving aggressively into these markets and making announcements that over the next two months, they’re really going to go hard after American in Miami.
And the article, what’s interesting, it sort of reflected on isn’t it interesting, Southwest Airlines hasn’t laid anybody off and between the two of them, American, United, have laid off 32,000 people. That’s right, 0 versus 32,000. And then, they went on to explain it’s the business model of Southwest Airlines. They don’t have an international business. They’ve really focused domestically. And oh, my goodness, they have a clean balance sheet. They didn’t go into the recession with a huge deficit, so they’ve been able to finance themselves at a pretty low cost right now as opposed to the other airlines, which paid enormous amounts in dividends and stock buybacks over the last five years.
So, I thought it was just fascinating. They went to this business question, and they left out what probably is at really the core of what makes Southwest Airlines tick, which is the purpose and the culture they’ve built around that. So, maybe talk a little bit about what your experience has been or was when you were working with Southwest Airlines and trying to make purpose really matter in a holistic sense in the business.
Haley: Well, it’s definitely not an overstatement to say that Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett taught me everything that I know about purpose. So, back in 1994 or ’95, I started working on Southwest Airlines and I worked with them for 15 or 16 years consecutively. And it became, for years, they were just focused on highlighting the aspects of the business model that made them successful. So, to your point in The Wall Street Journal article, a lot of people focused on their completely different kind of business model, low fares, frequent flights, friendliest people, hands down. And at one point, Herb said to me, “Haley, I think, by now, people know how we’re different even though they love to talk about that and write case studies. What I want to know is what difference do we make. Like, what’s the different that that difference in our business model makes in the lives of our customers?”
And so, we started asking that question. A little difference in the question, but it made a huge difference in what we heard from people, and they started saying things like, well, because of Southwest, I have the freedom to go, and see, and do more than I thought possible. I’ve got the freedom to take trips I wouldn’t have otherwise taken. I’ve got the freedom to grow my business on their route line. So, we went back and said, “Herb, you’re not in the discount airline business. You’re in the freedom business.” And he’s like, “I knew I was noble. I just wasn’t sure how.” So, that became one of our first, and again, we didn’t tell them we think you should be in the freedom business, it was what we discovered was the inherent value in what they were delivering to people. So, all we did was help bring language and articulate it in a way that all of a sudden, you could hold it up as the north star and navigate by it.
And not only did it drive their advertising for a long time in terms of, “Ding, you are now free to move about the country.” So now, when you hear that, everybody says that. But, as you’ve intimated, it’s fundamental. They have a business model that the low fares support that in a meaningful way. The frequency of the flights support that in a meaningful way. And then, they worked very hard to think about how do we embed freedom in everything we do. So, one of the first things that we did was we actually said if we’re in the freedom business, how do we actually give freedom to our own people and give them, so we did an employee value proposition that had freedom at its core.
So, people had seven employee freedoms. You were free to solve problems at work. You were free to grow your career along a certain career path. You were free to fly. You were free to bring your personality to work and express it in its full glory. So, we turned it inside. We would develop products, and when it came time to develop a loyalty program, for example. We’re like how do we create a loyalty program that people are actually free to use. And so, we have the fewest blackout dates in the industry, and you could ostensibly have 100% of a plane filled up with rapid rewards redemptions, which is, again, you can actually have the freedom to use your thing. So again, it becomes just a filter by which you look at every kind of assignment or initiative in front of you and say how can we look at this and use it as a potential way to fulfill the promise of our purpose in some new and fresh way.
So, I think of the pandemic right now and the lengths that they’re going to, to ensure safety protocols that give people a sense of I think I can fly. Like, I think it’s going to be okay. And so, I mean all things considered, they fared much better than the other airlines. And I love, Herb always said, too, I think the other thing that purpose does when it’s super, crystal clear, as it liberates people from having to have an overly prescriptive plan because you know, here’s what we’re in the business of, we’re here to give people freedom, so we do that. One of my favorite quotes from Herb, he’s like, “Yeah, we have this strategy. It’s called doing things.” But you can only say that when everyone in your organization is clear on what it is that they’re there to do.
If you’ve got 50 different opinions about what it is there to do, you’re going to have chaos and complete disorder. But, when everyone knows we are here to do this, to fulfill this purpose, to deliver this kind of value in the lives of the people we serve. Then, have at it. Handcuffs are off, go for it. And if you trust your people to make the right decision, you can see enormous momentum. And eventually, as Raj said that, we loved his title, terms of endearment that actually had a lot of the clients that Ray and Judy had attracted at GSCNN, he’s become really beloved brands in people’s lives because they matter and because they actually bring real significant value.
Timothy: Well, I love that point about significant value. I remember one of the stories that your partner and co-author, Roy Spence, used to say was the whole peanut story, and how Herb Kelleher reacted to whether we should have peanuts on our flights. Maybe you want to, because I think that one, people talk about it’s not about being soft. It is about paying attention to the numbers, and I thought that illustrated it in a really interesting way. So, could you relate that one?
Haley: Yeah. Well, clarity and purpose also tell you what you’re not going to do, so Southwest Airlines was famous for just giving people peanuts. And when they started doing long-haul flights, Roy was like, “Herb, people are going to pass out. You need to feed them. You need to give them something. Give them a Snickers bar.” Well, Herb, in his kind of classic way, kind of leaned back and was like, “Do you know how much a package of Snickers weighs versus a package of peanuts?” And he had this whole calculation, and apparently the weight of carrying Snickers would actually impact fuel cost and what not, and would raises their prices, and throw off their scheme. He’s like, “We’ll give them two bags of peanuts. They’ll be fine.”
But it was just a clarity of like what matters, how do we fulfill our purpose. This happened over and over. Like, when Jet Blue came online, and they had televisions, and their people were decked out in Kate Spade outfits. So, there were a lot of things like we need entertainment. We need to jazz up the Dockers (the unsexy brand of chinos worn by SWA staff). And Herb’s like we’re not in the entertainment business. We’re in the freedom business, so we’re going to keep things simple, and we’re going to make sure that we have a viable, sustainable business. I love in Conscious Leadership, John Mackey talks a lot about there’s the ideal and there’s the real. but you can’t forsake the real in service of the ideal.
You have to know what is possible. Like, if you’re going to be dedicated in a sincere way to the ideal realization of your purpose, there’s some realities that you’re going to have to face that make it possible. How do you do that in a practical way? Well, you don’t put televisions in. You don’t give people heavy Snickers. You don’t deck people out in Kate Spade, or whatever the case may be. Same thing with when market crashed in 2008 and everybody, and the travel industry sank, and people started saying how do we compensate for that lost revenue. We’re going to charge for bags. And consultants came into Southwest and told Gary Kelly, at the time, if you start charging for bags, that’s $300 million to the bottom line instantly. Everybody’s doing it. And he’s like, “Well, if we do it, again, that’s going to trespass against people’s ability to fly. So, go find the $300 million somewhere else.” And by staying true to our purpose, we actually ended up getting a billion dollars in new revenue for people who left their old carriers and came to Southwest Airlines because they were so mad at the nickel and diming that was going on elsewhere.
So, again, it doesn’t make decision easier. Roy always says that. But it makes them clear about here’s what we need to do to stay true to our purpose and that has implications to your business. It’s not just something you say. It’s something you have to live and bring to life in every action that you take in your company.
Raj: The other iconic company that you worked with is Walmart. And that to me is an interesting story because when Sam Walton was alive, and I think he started working with the company when he was still there. They had a clear purpose. In many ways they were a conscious company, right, save people money, so they can live better. I mean that’s a pretty noble purpose. Recognizing that they’re located in these small towns where incomes are lower, and yet people pay higher prices for most things, so they can’t afford to, and they have worst selection and higher prices. So, he said I want to save people money on essentials, so they can live better.
See, feels like after he passed away, the company lost its soul a little bit. It lost sight of its purpose. It became just the lowest prices every day, or always the lowest prices, right. It just became about price. They became kind of a soulless cost cutting machine, and they lost the purpose behind that as to why they were doing that. I think people were treated with respect when Sam around, and afterwards they became interchangeable parts. And it feels like for the last seven, eight years, Walmart has been kind of on a journey to go get back to their sense of purpose, right, and reconnect with those ideas. What are your thoughts about that?
Haley: Well, I think it’s fascinating. I was actually happy John Mackey and in his Conscious Leadership book, the chapter on purpose, actually, opens with a quote from Sam Walton talking about when you’re clear on your passion, it changes everything. And you’re absolutely right, Sam Walton was super passionate about saving people money, so they could live better. Literally, it’s what he said on his deathbed that he hopes his legacy was is that he saved people a little bit of money and helped them to live a little bit better quality of life. I think where Walmart has had to evolve over the last couple of decades is in reconciling a very clear core purpose that made a difference in the life of consumers with the cost to the other stakeholders. So, you can’t have a purpose for one stakeholder, in this case, the customer that is borne on the backs of your suppliers, your associates, the environment, and all of those kinds of things.
And what I’ve seen is a real intentional effort to say how do we still stay true to saving people money, so they can live better, a purpose that is an evergreen purpose that, especially in the days and times we’re living in, I think has never been more relevant, but how do we do that in a way where we’re also paying our associates a living wage and giving them healthcare. Those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You have the Costcos of the world and numerous retailers showing, and I think Walmart’s done an enormous, made enormous progress on that front in the last, they enacted the livable wage. They’ve come a long way on healthcare. I think they probably still have a long way to go on their suppliers. How do you create win-win relationships with suppliers?
But, one place where they’ve done really interesting work, again, from the multi-stakeholder model is on environmental practices. And I think they’re a great case study of how do you think about something like sustainability in way that is right for your company’s purpose. So when Lee Scott really was one of the first leaders there to say, okay, if we’re in the business of saving people money then it would behoove us to eliminate costs that are unnecessary that also, by the way, happen to be good for the environment. So, why does, for example, a bar of deodorant need to come in a box? Let’s get rid of that. We don’t need the box. That just now saved our customers two pennies on the deodorant, and we just stopped deforestation and landfill waste. Or, how do we reduce the cost of our, or make our truck fleet more fuel efficient, or how do we get to zero waste in our stores because all of those measures lower costs that can then be passed on to lowering cost for customers.
So, I like that versus it’s not like Walmart is ever going to be a tree hugger, like approach environmentalism like a Patagonia would, but they have just as much of a vested stake in operating in a sustainable way because it is like the next frontier of how they lower costs that serves their customer. So, I think they’re a great example of, and I think it’s one evolution that I’ve seen in the realm of purpose overall is I think early on people were just looking at the customer and how do I create a compelling purpose that benefits the customer. And they weren’t necessarily thinking about all the other stakeholders. And now, that’s all part of the equation. Sometimes you see the emergence of a purpose that is designed to, using your language, Raj, to heal the suffering that exists in one of the stakeholder groups. And that’s why that company exists.
And so, that’s been interesting to see that kind of evolution in the purpose space. But, I do think this more holistic look at the entire wake that a company leaves and being mindful of as we go about fulfilling a core purpose, which does tend to still be more customer focused, how do we do that in a way that honors every stakeholder.
Raj: I think in the early decades, Walmart’s ability to lower prices wasn’t on the backs of employees and even suppliers so much. They had tremendous innovation in the supply chain, right, that the way in which products were delivered from suppliers and the amount of inventory, I think if I remember, it’s been a while since I taught that stuff, but the hundreds of billions of dollars of inventory was sitting around in the pipeline, about 80 days’ worth of inventory typically, right. And it was costing an additional $20 billion a year. And they pioneered sort of the just in time, direct docking, it comes into the warehouse and goes directly to stores and stuff doesn’t just sit around. And of course, they got rid of all of the constant promotional cycles, and the incentives, and so forth, became everyday low prices, and also steady prices, so the inventory moved through in a steady way rather than in a lump way. So, all of those things led to tremendous efficiencies, which then allowed them to pass it on. So, they did that in a win-win way.
And I think later on, they kind of took the easy path, what seemed to be the easy path – let’s squeeze our suppliers and let’s squeeze our employees. But, it’s great to see them re-finding their way now, and I think that’s one of the heartening stories in business lately.
Timothy: Well, I want to go to another article that was in The Financial Times this week. And it had the wonderful title “The Baffling Search for Purpose in a Purpose Statement.” So now, there’s an interesting challenge. And they were particularly speaking about a French defense and technology company known as Thales, and probably a lot of our North American readers don’t know much about them, but they’re in businesses from making drone software, to train tickets, various other technology focused businesses. And they came out with a seven-word purpose statement that says, “Building a future we can all trust.”
And it immediately lit up a sort of LinkedIn storm or another set of tweeting storms, and one of the quotes that I thought was brilliant was this one that says, “Bingo. They’ve pulled off a trifecta in the corporate twaddle stakes. A group that makes everything from train tickets to drone software has spent hours of company time on a statement so devoid of meaning that it could have come from any number of untold other firms.” So, I thought that was a real interesting, they’ve spent six months putting this together. They unveil it and it lands with a massive thud and leads to this wonderful article in The Financial Times where they’re the lead article on it. So, I was wondering, Haley, how do you put the purpose in purpose?
Haley: Well, it’s interesting. You see a lot of that. I can’t tell you how many times we get a phone call after an experience like that where, as kind of as a cleanup crew.
Haley: And it’s unfortunate. To me, what that feels like is people tried to write something that was more like a communications tagline than a concise, clear statement of purpose that actually guides behavior and decisions. So, when we’re articulating a purpose because I’m sure there was, you can’t go through that kind of exercise, do those many interviews, and not find hopefully, some bear there that’s worth distilling and articulating. But, when it’s said in just kind of, I always say go for clarity over cleverness. And like when it just sounds kind of like a generic tagliney thing that people don’t know what do I do with that then it’s not helpful. It’s not useful, and it actually can create a whole host of cynical reactions rather than meaningful direction. And so, so that’s my first reaction.
I mean we have some general guidelines of how do you write a good purpose statement of really avoiding anything that sounds like a generic mission statement. And you know it when you see it. Like, if it just sounds like a boring platitude, just go ahead and get rid of it, jettison it. You don’t have to have your purpose say how you’re going to do it. It doesn’t need to be encumbered with a how. That comes kind of later. It should be really focused on the essential difference that you’re trying to make in the world. It should be as crystal clear. I remember when we first wrote the purpose statement for Walmart. I think I was trying to be very clever and have this nice alliteration, and it was like to improve the quality of life by lowering the cost of living. Which is true, but at the time Lee Scott’s (former CEO of Walmart) like, “I’m not sure my 2.4 million employees all are going to understand cost of living, quality of life. Can we go back and like look at how Sam talked about it?”
And literally, we found this clip from when he was receiving a Presidential award, and he said, that’s where he said, “I hope my legacy is I saved people money and helped them live a little bit better.” And I’m like, okay, save people money, help them live better. That’s pretty good. That’s pretty clear. It’s a much, like we say kind of so simple a five-year-old could understand it test. And then, you do want to aim high. Like, one of the things, like you want it to be, here’s who we are when we’re at our best. Or, here’s the desired impact that we hope to make when we’re truly aligned with our best self so to speak. I see a lot of companies that try to, they’re like, they second guess themselves, or they overly critic themselves. And because they’re not doing that everywhere and always, they don’t necessarily want to say it.
So, I think, even Whole Foods is kind of interesting because John Mackey, again, in the book, he talks about how when he had Safer Way, it was a pure play. It was all about creating, or selling things that nourish people’s health and wellbeing, but it really just didn’t have a viable business that way. And he had to start selling beer, and chocolate, and meat, and other things in order to have a viable, real, successful business. Now, the ambition is always going to be to help contribute to the health and wellbeing of people and planet, always going to be a high ambition, and then there’s also the reality of, okay, well, how do we do that in a way that still has a sustainable thriving business. So anyway, you do want to aim high, but it should have clarity over cleverness. It should reflect to your deepest kind of why.
One thing I will say that’s kind of interesting though, and because I used to be super critical of other, I just can’t help myself. I like look at people’s purpose statements, and I would just, like what is that, because it is art and science. Like, there’s a, you want to use data to make sure you are articulating the right thing, but then there’s an artistic element of how do we say this in a simple, clear, concise, inspiring way. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that the statement is just an indication of where you want to go. You don’t need to get too hung up on the statement if it’s meaningful to the people inside the company.
So, a great example of this is like Mars Pet Care versus Nestle Pet. So, Mars Pet Care had a purpose statement of better world for pets. And Nestle had one that was just better with pets, or something like that. It was pretty negligible difference in how they articulated their purpose. And when I first saw a better world for pets, I thought, okay, well, that’s good. It could lean into the tagline world, but what they did with it is they said, okay, if we’re going to actually create a better world for pets, then we need to do a whole lot more than just sell dog food. We also need to get into the veterinary services and health services to create a better world for pets. We could do Fitbit monitoring and create innovative like Fitbits for our animals to actually track their health. We could get involved with making cities more livable for pets and having more pet friendly cities. We could have a venture, like basically, a business accelerator within our business to invest in innovative pet care products that actually create healthier, happier pets.
I mean they took that purpose and they brought it to life in creating a whole new ecosystem of opportunity within the business, and it’s become the highest growth business unit within Mars, as my understanding, one of the most profitable and one of the most highly engaged customer bases now with their business. If you compare that with Nestle Purina that just had a ‘better with pets’ line, and they basically created a social media campaign that was nice, and it was about how people have better lives with their pets, had zero impact on the business, on the strategy, on the innovation, on anything. It was just kind of a nice little way to describe about life with pets.
So radically different execution. So, the ultimate test of whether a purpose statement is good or not is whether it’s meaningful to the people inside the organization and whether they’re using it to drive their business. Another good example is, I don’t, I’m probably not going to pronounce it right, but there’s a Finnish oil refining company called Neste, and their purpose statement is again, it’s like creating responsible choices every day. And to me, that’s kind of a yawner of a purpose statement. It doesn’t necessarily, but I’m like, but what does it mean to them. Well, to them it meant to make a responsible choice meant to radically overhaul their entire business to become the, now, one of the top 10 most sustainable, renewable, energy companies in the world. They make billions of dollars of investments in new infrastructure. They moved their entire customer base to green, renewable energy solutions. So, responsible choices, they knew exactly what that meant, and they built a business accordingly. So, that’s, to me, I try not to stand in judgment of a purpose statement until I actually lift up the hood and see, well, what’s going on. Is it meaningful to them because that’s what matters.
Raj: I’ve actually done some work with Gemalto and Thales, the company that acquired Gemalto, here. I think I know what they were trying to get at, and maybe they just need Haley’s help to really make it come alive because they are in the technology business for the most part, right. So, they are at the cutting edge of technology. So, they are in a way, building our future in multiple dimensions. And they’re also in the business of cyber security, and smart cars, and all of those kinds of things because trust is a big issue when it comes to new technologies, and AI, and the surveillance state, and all the rest of it, and hackers, and so forth, right. So, they are really passionate about protecting us, right, and making sure that we can trust the new technologies that are coming. So, it kind of gets at both sides of their overall business. But I agree that it could be expressed in a way that doesn’t sound so vanilla, but there is substance behind that, I believe.
Timothy: Well, I love that I think Haley’s raised a number of really critical and important points. And one of the things is that your purpose has to be clear enough that you can use it to make good decisions for the business. And your discussion about Southwest Airlines, and sort of saying when we’re thinking about having to make a strategic decision and we look at it through the lens of purpose, is it meaningful enough to give us guidance, one. And then, two, is it significant enough to the management team that they’re willing to put that kind of energy behind the purpose, so that it is meaningful to them. They’re willing to take on and base their credibility of the purpose on the fact that they use it. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it fall then did the tree really fall.
So, if you create a purpose statement and it’s never used inside the business to make decisions then it’s the tree falling in the forest, and nobody knows. So, I think that was a really important point that you raised for a couple of the examples you brought up is when you look under the hood. You also touched a little bit on the making it matter. There’s sort of that external part. Are we using it around our business model, and around our strategy. But, I think there’s also that part, isn’t there, around the culture. And, Haley, I was wondering if you would like to reflect on maybe a couple of good examples where people have made purpose matter inside to their organization in a way that’s really, in your mind, been significant?
Haley: Well, certainly, you see the next generation wants to use their talents in the service of something they believe in. Like, you see from, just on the pure battle for talent, it’s having a clear purpose that is meaningful to people, and that your business is built to support will attract and start, and your people inside your organization will gravitate to those kind of more purposeful projects. But, I’ll say real specifically, and I don’t know if this is exactly at the heart of your question, but one of the things that we’ve started doing is developing purpose inspired employee value propositions, so every company does employee value propositions of what are our benefits, what are our work-life balance, what are our compensation model. But, when you’re really a purpose-driven company, I am a believer that it’s hard to ask people to champion something that they themselves are not the beneficiaries of. So, how do you turn your purpose inwards and have a unique manifestation that’s designed for your people.
So, one fun example is we did VF last year. They’re one of the largest lifestyle apparel companies in the world. They own companies like North Face, and Smart Wool, and Vans, and great lifestyle apparel companies, and I’m sorry, apparel brands, and so we said, okay, well, let’s go inside our company. They were working on an EVP (Employee Value Proposition), and it was like what would it look like to have an active and sustainable life at work. And so, when we went and asked people that question, and they were like, well, an active and sustainable life at work is one where I have work-life balance, and active and sustainable life at work is where I’m growing and thriving, and I’m not stagnating, and what would that look like for career plans. It might also include immersion in the lifestyles that I am intended to advocate for. So, if I work for at Vans then I should learn how to skate a half-pipe, that should be part of my management training.
Like, you actually turn it inside and let your people, it’s funny, I remember I was talking to one guy who worked in one of the distribution centers. And he was like I’m glad we’re helping other people in the world have active lifestyles, but I want my own active lifestyle and my own momentum in this company. And so, how do we bring that to life for our own people, so that was really fun to basically take the things that you would normally do, and just again, I know Raj likes acronyms, so we talk about living the purposeful life, and the LIFE stands for, the Lens I Filter Everything through, like how do I look at this through the lens of my purpose, and have it take shape. It doesn’t work for everything, but it sure works for a lot more than people are probably using it for.
Timothy: I love that. A client of mine, The Body Shop, came out with their new purpose last year – fighting for a fairer, more beautiful world. And one of the exercises we did with the executive team as we were playing with that in terms of how you bring it to life was they came up with this idea that we’d all be joyful radicals in trying to fight for a fairer, more beautiful world. There was a funny exercise to have all the executives give them some crayons and a blank piece of paper, and say, okay, draw a picture of you as a joyful radical. What does that mean for you? And it was fascinating and fun for them to sort of say as we bring this into the culture, what does it really mean to be a joyful radical? And then, they added one other point which was and purposeful entrepreneurs. So, if we’re joyful radicals and purposeful entrepreneurs, then that will be the critical pieces that we’re going to drive into our culture, how we’re going to start to live our purpose. And it was just fun to see people draw with crayons what it meant to be a joyful radical.
Raj: So, Haley, I’m curious, what were some of the influences that you had, thinkers, or people that you met, or books that you’ve read on this journey that really inspired you and impacted you, and that our listeners might also benefit from?
Haley: Well, is it too much of a kiss-up to say you? I’m a huge fan of your work. I mean it’s funny, Raj, in the beginning of my career, again, I’m just blessed to have amazing, purpose-driven entrepreneurs as my mentors. Like, I don’t know how you could have a better mentor than Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett, or the John Mackeys of the world, I just have great leaders who I just, good fortune of having worked in a capacity where I could be kind of in the trenches and working on their business with them. I just saw how they operated and that’s how our book originally came about. But lately, I feel like I’ve used this year in particular, to see what the world of purpose can learn from the fields of psychology, mythology, spirituality, and so I’ve been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey.
And so, how could a leader actually use that framework to say if our home base has been shareholder-based capitalism. How could we answer this call to adventure to think more deeply about our impact in the world, and go on a journey to become a conscious capitalist, so to speak? And what does that look like? What lessons do I need to learn? What demons do I need to fight? What challenges might I endure that then I can come back and integrate those into my business. So, I’m reading a lot of Joseph Campbell and how that hero’s journey plays out as a metaphor and model.
Raj: I think we, just to interrupt you for just one second, I think Joseph Campbell, in terms of purpose, he talked about you follow your heartbreak and you follow your bliss.
Raj: Most people will just say follow your bliss, but he added follow your heartbreak. What is it that you look at and it really breaks your heart, and somebody else can just walk right past it. And then, what is your bliss. And somewhere in there is, that’s a hint.
Raj: You can triangulate from there what is your real purpose, right, and that gets to suffering, right, reduce suffering, elevate joy through whatever that you end up
Haley: And there’s so much suffering that exists in the world that it’s not hard to look out at the, look out within your own field of influence, and say what is it my responsibility and where do I have the will to step up and make a positive impact there. So, I love Joseph Campbell and what mythology can teach. I also am a huge Victor Frankl fan, and I’ve taken this time during the pandemic to reread so many of his books. I mean everybody knows his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, but he also has The Unheard Cry for Meaning, Logo Therapy. He built a whole school of therapy. His contention was so much of the anxiety, and depression, and suffering that exists today is a crisis of meaning. And set up whole school of therapy to say let’s actually counsel people on finding the meaning in their life, and that will help eradicate so much of the existential void that people are feeling when, well, anyway, so I’m looking at his work which I think is fascinating. And then I’m actually right now …
Raj: So sorry to interrupt again. So, that’s one of my favorite books, probably in my top three, and I’ve always felt that you could change the name of that book to the Corporation’s Search for Meaning, and all of the same lessons apply, right, human beings pursue happiness the way companies pursue profits. And as he said, happiness cannot be pursued. It ensues. It is the outcome of living a life of meaning and purpose, and same thing with profit on the corporate side.
Timothy: Raj, that raises an interesting question in a sense, both of you come of this idea of meaning and Victor Frankl. And, Haley, when people call you up and say I want you to work on our purpose, they’re going to be coming at it from a whole spectrum of different places. Some will understand the Victor Frankl argument or discussion, and they will know Joseph Campbell, and they will have read. And some will be like who, what, and yet here they are saying, okay, I want to work on this purpose, yet they come with this broad spectrum that they approach it with. How do you begin that discussion with someone who’s maybe not so far over on the Victor Frankl side of things, but maybe more on the, hey, I’ve heard purpose. It’s a good thing. We ought to have one.
Haley: Yeah. It’s a really good question because for better or worse, I think a lot of people are coming to purpose because of all of the studies that have been done looking at it as a driver of performance. And so, if the only reason that you are considering going on a purpose journey is because it appeals to you on the performance and profit perspective then paradoxically it won’t work. Like, your motivation matters. You have to be sincere in your desire to use your business to help create value in the world, or and just, and so from wherever that might originate and from every leader I’ve worked with, it’s always a different backstory as to why they show up, and say sign me up, I’m ready. Like, I’m ready to go on this journey. I never know. It could be a crisis in their business that they’re reevaluating everything.
It could be a personal epiphany that they’ve had. You think about Ray Anderson, and like his personal epiphany that kind of came out of left field when he had an understanding of the resource, what do you call it, like overdemand of resources and what the fate of the planet might look like if he didn’t step up and take responsibility for Interface’s footprint. And so, like, that’s one example of somebody who had like a moment of deep, deep epiphany of their impact in the world
Timothy: Haley, I love your comment about what many people today are calling purpose washing right, the whole idea I need a purpose. Doesn’t purpose drive performance. And I love your insight that, yeah, of course, motivation matters. And if you come at it with the wrong motive then you’re probably going to end up in the wrong place at the end of the journey. But, on that spectrum, there are some people who are a couple of steps up from I just need a purpose because I’ve been told I need one, or I need it because it drives performance. But, they’re not quite at that other end of the spectrum, so how do you handle someone who’s sort of just starting to dip their toe in the purpose water?
Haley: Well, the first thing I’ll say is you don’t need everyone on board with the concept of purpose in order to start the journey. You just need a nice little, you need a critical mass of people who get it and believe in it, and are sincere about pursuing it. And knowing that, hopefully, over time, over the course of the journey, you will bring more people on board. I actually think about there’s a great parable, Christian parable, where Jesus talks about the sower sows the seed in the fields, and there’s four kinds of soil. There’s some seed that’s going to be thrown on paved ground, and it’s going to be eaten up by the birds. And those are the closed hearts and closed minds, and the people that are so entrenched in the status quo way of operating, they can’t even hear it.
Then, some is going to be thrown on rocky ground where it takes root and there’s a quick flurry of activity where it’s like, oh, this is exciting. It reminds me of the Blue Bonnets in Texas in the spring where like they come up, but then the second that the sun comes in or a storm comes in, it’s over. Like, they don’t have good enough soil to stay there. So, you actually see a lot of that happening where people get excited about the concept of purpose, and it takes root, and they have big launch events, and they do big anthems, but they don’t have the discipline to actually weave it and sow it down into the roots of the business, and the strategy and other things, so it just kind of gets washed away.
Then, some of the seed gets sown on like rocky ground. And the rocky ground is like what are all the other competing agendas and competing interests, and the weeds and thorns that exist. And the weeds and thorns to me are old ways of doing business, old myths about how business has zero sum gain. The old myth that you have to serve just shareholders, so these are all the weeds that are going to pop up and like choke out these new concepts in your business, right.
And then, some of the seed is going to fall on fertile ground, good soil, good open hearts, open minds that understand it’s got to be watered. It’s got to be nourished. It’s got to be tended to. You’ve got to weed out the weeds that are invariably going to come up. And so, and if you’ve got good enough soil in enough of the hearts and minds of your people for it to start to take off, and you’re weeding out the weeds and you’re plucking out the rocks then over time you’re going to have a harvest. Like, that’s my, and so you can’t get too worried about, well, we got some weeds over there, so let’s just scrap the whole thing. Like, any good farmer or gardener knows, you just got to, just got to work it [inaudible]
Timothy: No, I love that. I think that’s a great way of describing it. And I’ve also loved in the, in many of the discussions we’ve had, the way you sort of simplify the making it matter discussion sometimes. And I’ll never forget at one point, we were in some discussion, and I said, “But, how do you align it with the strategy?” And your answer was, “Well, if you were living your purpose what would you do differently?” And it was like, well, immediately, people sort of say, oh, if we were really living our purpose, we would, and I thought that was great. Can you give us an example or two of where you’ve seen a company sort of really move the needle on that? When you’ve moved from here’s our purpose to if we were living our purpose how would we be different? What are one or two examples that come to mind for you of businesses that really moved the needle on this?
Haley: Yeah. Well, I will say there’s, I’ve never worked on a client that had a purpose that they were living 100% aligned, we’re done. That probably is an indication that your purpose isn’t big enough or bold enough if you’re 100% got it. So, there’s always, I say that because there’s always going to be a gap between the ambition and the reality. And that doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate ambition. It just shows you where you got work to do. So, even an exemplar like Whole Foods, when they were after, they’ve always had clarity of purpose of trying to create a world where people, communities, and the planet can flourish.
And so, it was a number of years ago that somebody pointed out that the animals in the system were not flourishing. Like, there was actually a huge amount of suffering that existed for the animal stakeholder in the industrial food system. And so, John Mackey, to his credit, investigated everything, learned everything he could about animal welfare, and then set a course to actually create animal compassion and animal welfare standards that not only served as the standards for Whole Foods, but then were disseminated industry-wide because in order to actually make an impact on that front you needed them to be systemic, not just specific to Whole Foods.
And so, to me, I love those kinds of examples of companies being brutally honest about, okay, here’s where we are living it. There’s obviously got to be evidence that we’re capable of doing it, or we wouldn’t have had it emerge as a purpose. But let’s be honest, and usually, in the company, people know where those gaps are. And so, to say, okay, now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work on closing those gaps, and every company is going to be different. I mean there’s countless examples of where those kind of gaps exist, and it’s fun to, to me, that’s where the work really begins.
Timothy: Haley, thank you so much for your time today, really appreciated it, loved to be talking to the queen of purpose and get her insights on this. Thank you.
Haley: It was a super pleasure to be here.
Raj: You are the modern-day Victor Frankl in the world of business. Thank you for that and thank you for being with us today. And we look forward to seeing all of our listeners next week. Thank you, Timothy.
Timothy: Thank you, all. If you are listening to this, please feel free to press subscribe on whatever channel that you’re watching it for, or listening to it on your podcast, and we’ll see you again next week. Thanks so much. See you, Raj.
Raj: Okay. Bye, guys. Bye, Haley.
Haley: Bye, Raj. Bye, Timothy.