Bonobo leadership style

John Kotter – how to approach a change process

The 5 secrets of inspirational companies

by Salem Samhoud, &samhoud

Why do some businesses have such extraordinary appeal? And why are companies like Interface, Semco and Virgin so inspiring? What are the hallmarks of companies that are so widely talked about and admired?

1 They are unusual
The first point to strike you is that inspirational organisations do extraordinary things. Things that at first make you think “hey, that’s weird”. Market-leading carpet tile manufacturer Interface has a partnership project with fishermen in the Philippines where they collect discarded fishing nets (!) drifting around in the sea and then use them as the raw materials for producing new carpet tiles. At Semco, teams of employees can set their own salaries. And Virgin continually astonish us with their groundbreaking ideas. There are countless examples of inspirational companies that behave in extraordinary ways. What they all have in common is that they do the most remarkable things. Is this mere coincidence? Not at all. Are the things they do simply marketing gimmicks? Not entirely. There’s far more to it than that. Let’s take a closer look…

2 They are driven by their vision
There is a deep motivation within inspirational organisations. They have a vision made up of elements such as a higher goal (or purpose), an audacious goal, core values and core qualities. And because they genuinely derive their inspiration from their vision, they are hugely appealing to others. In other words, you can never truly be inspirational if you’re not inspired yourself. Interface has the audacious goal of ‘Mission Zero’: 100% climate-neutral operations as an oil and energy-intensive manufacturing business. That resonates throughout the entire organisation, and gives birth to unprecedented innovations. So from the moment you step inside an inspirational company you see that its vision is not just a series of hollow buzzwords on paper, but a tangible reality. These people are genuinely passionate about their vision! They are happy!

3 Their performance is outstanding
But all this doesn’t mean that they’re ‘soft’. Quite the reverse! Their value management is unrivalled. They achieve outstanding performance, and management is explicitly focussed on results. Interface is the world market leader in its sector, with the highest profit margin in the industry. Virgin turns every market it enters upside down. At inspirational companies, customer satisfaction is sky-high. They usually score high in the Great Place to Work rankings too. And let’s be honest: an ‘inspirational’ business without inspirational results is something faintly absurd.

4 They market their value
Inspirational organisations succeed in putting their story across. But you’ll notice that they don’t do this in the conventional way through advertising. Instead, they inspire others with the source of their passion: their vision. They don’t immediately try to convince people to buy their products or services. Instead, they fire people up with enthusiasm for what they want to realise in the world: their vision. And so you as a potential customer, employee, investor or ordinary member of the public feel invited to join in and make a contribution to this vision. People are willing to spread happiness.

5 They focus on a range of stakeholders
And that brings us to the final hallmark of inspirational companies. They are not solely focused on money and shareholder value. They understand the art of taking initiatives that create value for all stakeholders: for customers, shareholders, employees and society as a whole. They ask themselves questions like: ‘How can we cut our costs by 50% in a way that creates more value for our employees and our customers?’ and ‘How can we achieve our almost impossibly audacious goal in reality?’ And that’s how they come up with unusual initiatives like the ones I listed at the start of this blog. Just think of Interface and their fishing nets project: it inspires both customers and employees, it has demonstrable social value, and it’s cheaper too. In other words, inspirational companies create happy employees, customers, communities and happy shareholders at the very same time.

That is what inspirational companies do. And that is creating lasting value.

This blog highlights a few ideas from Salem’s new book, which he wrote together with Nur Hamurçu and Jeroen Geelhoed: Creating Lasting Value.

Creating Lasting Value

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