Book review: Creating innovatoin, profits, growth & social good

Super Corp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth and Social Good

By Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Crown Business, $32

You and I have only one reason to go to work this morning. And it has nothing to do with spending our day in meetings and talking amongst ourselves.

We're going to work to change the world.

To make a real difference in big and small ways.

To make someone's life better and easier.

To right a few wrongs.

Sound a little too idealistic?

Seems to work pretty well for IBM, Procter & Gamble and a host of companies that put social purpose front and centre.

"Innovation that matters, for our company and the world" is one of IBM's three overarching values.

Back in 2003, and early in his tenure as chair and CEO, Sam Palmisano invited 350,000 IBMers from 170 countries to join a conversation about what the company stood for and believed in. Through a 72-hour onlineValuesJam, staff gave Palmisano a metre's worth of feedback.

Making the world a better place was a recurring theme.

And then there's P&G with a purpose to provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world's consumers, now and for generations to come.

IBM and P&G are among a select group of what author Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls vanguard companies that are ahead of the curve and the wave of the future.

"For years, lip service has been paid by many corporate leaders to achieving high performance and being a good corporate citizen," says Kanter, chair of Harvard University's Advanced Leadership Initiative and one of the 50 most powerful women in the world according to the London Times.

"What I have discovered in my research, however, is that the two issues, business performance and societal contributions, are, in fact, intimately connected. Service to society, guided by well-articulated values, is not just 'nice to do,' but an integral part of the business models for companies that I call the vanguard."

Embedding social purpose in your mission, vision and values and then walking the talk gets you engaged employees, a hotbed of innovation and exceptional customer service.

"The point is not the exact words themselves but the living process: to open a dialogue that keeps the sense of social purpose in the forefront of everyone's mind and then to use that as a guidance mechanism for business decisions," says Kanter.

A higher purpose drives higher performance.

Your best and brightest want to be part of something bigger than a paycheque. They want to be part of a winning organization that makes a real difference close to home and around the world.

Anyone who's lucky to work for an employer who puts people and purpose first, knows exactly how it feels and they're proud to play a part in a vanguard organization.

You start the week by jumping out of bed and saying thank God it's Monday.

"People more readily stretch to solve problems that have never been tackled before because they care about serving society and also because they believe in social progress," says Kanter. "The vanguard model is not only good for business and society, writ large, but is also good for individuals. The newer generation of professionals and managers want satisfying work and a paycheque certainly, but they also want to be members of an institution that contributes to the common good."

A social purpose also reminds us to quit navel-gazing and keep looking outside our organization for problems to solve and needs to be met. You won't find any inspiration for innovation in a meeting room or in a 50-slide PowerPoint.

Chances are, your most innovative and engaged colleagues are the ones who are well connected and networked to the outside world.

Kanter predicts that big societal problems will be the next frontier for innovation. Smart, sustainable and successful organizations will figure out how to shorten the loop between challenges in society and innovative solutions.

"At each phase of the innovation process — generating ideas, selling others on those ideas and executing the projects to turn ideas into realities — purpose-driven companies gain advantages," says Kanter.

"When you bring society inside the organization, the possibilities increase for success at every point in the innovation process."

So dig up — and dust off — your organization's mission, vision and values. If there's no mention of social purpose, start a conversation and keep talking. You'll make your organization better and you'll make our community stronger.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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