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New General Market: Clarity through purpose

The new leadership challenge: building a purpose-led business.

Mike Clementi, Unilever’s vice president of human resources-North America and customer development, kicked off his presentation at the New General Market Purpose-Driven Summit by highlighting that the corporate world has been in a state of paradox. The new order is seeing companies transform their focus and organizations rapidly alongside competition and disruption, globalization, digitization and fragmentation.

In short, it is now a world where what he called “trade-off management” is a necessary tool, but we need a new lens to make decisions. We see this being replaced with polarity management, the need to balance between two trends that seem to pull in the opposite direction.

“The reality is we have to manage both sides of the equation at the same time,” he said, noting that building an organization with purpose is the best way to ensure that an organization has a North Star as it navigates a shifting landscape.

“What is your beacon in a world where new competition is a threat, but it’s also an opportunity?” Clementi said. “You need a beacon, something that guides you — a point of view, a perspective. So, organizations are forced to transform because it’s not just about the bottom line — it’s also about the reason organizations exist.”

At Unilever, Clementi said that the company has a purpose — to grow its business while decoupling its environmental footprint from its growth, and increasing its positive social impact — that he said unites its employees. The company does so through three elements — the individual employee, brands and the company as a whole.

Regarding the need for an individual purpose, Clementi quoted Jackie Robinson, who said: “Life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.” In order to get employees in touch with their purpose, the company holds purpose workshops. The thinking behind this, he said, is that people with purpose are able to thrive.

“We find that when people are connected to their personal purpose and do it at work, it creates an owners mindset,” he said. “People living their purpose stay with an organization for a longer time because they get to do what they want in a way that’s authentic.”

Alongside bringing employees in touch with their individual purposes, Clementi said Unilever’s brands also are engaged in delivering on purpose, using the existing heritage that made them household mainstays — because, he said, brands with purpose grow faster.

Clementi highlighted the work that Dove Men+Care is doing, building on its heritage of celebrating men’s role in others’ lives since its 2010 launch, by pushing for paternity leave for new dads. The campaign was accompanied by Unilever including them in its global parental leave policy.

“What you are seeing is the authenticity of Dove,” he said. “So, 2018 and beyond is where the purpose of the brand sits. The whole point is speaking authentically to what the brand is about in a way that’s different and resonates with core consumers.”

In so doing, brands manage to bring consumers into the discussion, as well. “We want people to say, ‘Actually I think I can do this — I can change the world because I’m standing for something’” through the brand.

Both individual and brand purposes exist under the umbrella of the larger company’s purpose and culture. Clementi said that at Unilever, this is largely embodied in its leadership model, which focuses on an inner and outer game. The inner game is focused on purpose and service, as well as personal mastery and agility. Outer game elements include consumer love, business acumen and passion for high performance.

“This idea of the inner and outer game is super important because it focuses our leadership model to take purpose to the next level,” Clementi said. “Purpose provides clarity.”

This story is part of a Special Report on the New General Market Purpose-Driven Summit — to read more insights, click here
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