Date posted: 15/05/2019 5 min read

Why you need a bigger business idea than the pursuit of profits

How do you build a company the world will get behind? By listening to the new C.E.Os – Customers, Employees and Outsiders.

In Brief

  • Ordinary people are having much greater influence on business decisions due to the growth of social media.
  • Customers, Employees and Outsiders – the new C.E.O.s – have unprecedented power in deciding if a business succeeds or fails.
  • To keep these new C.E.O.s onside, businesses must have at their core a bigger purpose than making money.

In 2018, seven-year-old Daliah Lee from Canberra was so upset by what she saw on her breakfast cereal box, she wrote a letter.

“Dear Kellogg’s. This morning I noticed that on the back of the Nutri-Grain box there are only pictures of boys doing something awesome… Why can’t girls be on the back? Please fix this.”

A fairly standard corporate response followed from Kellogg’s, thanking Daliah for her feedback and committing to pass it on internally to the product development team.

This was not the answer this Year 2 student was looking for.

With help from her mother and classmates, Daliah launched a petition that quickly caught the attention of mainstream media. Kellogg’s subsequently had a change of heart and moved faster to announce that Nutri-Grain’s packaging would start showcasing “awesome“ girls in 2019.

Since when did ordinary people start influencing the commercial decisions of big business? What the hell is going on?

A society-wide trust crisis is colliding with the social media revolution – that’s what’s going on.

Don’t ‘manage’ stakeholders; listen to them

Traditional forms of leadership are toppling over and strategies of the past are no longer working in this new era. Businesses around the world are forced to play defence as the power illustrated in Daliah’s case spreads across a full range of stakeholders.

The same stakeholders that business historically ‘managed’ with customer service departments, PR machines, self-serving policies and bare minimum social responsibility efforts now have so much influence, we call them the new C.E.O.s: the Customers, Employees and Outsiders who decide if a business succeeds or fails, how fast, and by how much.

The majority of businesses are not wired to handle the speed and potency of the new C.E.O.s. But first movers embracing the new era are building brand distinction and competitive advantage in ways that leave their peers behind. We call these companies Inspired Companies – and they work in ways that keep the new C.E.O.s onside to fuel success.

“We call them the new C.E.O.s: the Customers, Employees and Outsiders who decide if a business succeeds or fails, how fast, and by how much.”
Lisa MacCallum

How to succeed in the new normal

A small team of collaborators and I spent the past five years dissecting examples of success and failure to put some structure behind how you become one of these companies.

The first step to becoming an Inspired Company? Define a big enough reason to exist. Most companies already have a mission or purpose statement, the problem is that very few of them will appeal to the new C.E.O.s. Profit as purpose doesn’t seem to work for them.

In a sea of poorly considered statements of purpose, here are a few good ones:

  • “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (Google)
  • “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. (*If you have a body you are an athlete).” (Nike)
  • “To open up the world for those who want to see.” (Flight Centre)

None of these companies is perfect, but their purpose statements are hard to argue with. They are ideas that can be shared and supported by many. The best version of them might even lead to greatness.

In a world low on trust where the new C.E.O.s are calling the shots, business must figure out how to pursue much bigger ideas in ways that are believable. Then defy enough corporate norms to actually deliver.

Inspired INC.: Become a company the world will get behind

Inspired INC.: Become a company the world will get behind by Lisa MacCallum and Emily Brew with Nicole Howson (Crowd Press and Whitefox Publishing, RRP A$33.99)

Available in stores, online, and to borrow from the CA Library.

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