Exploring the Link Between Purpose and Profit with Carolyn Butler Madden

Have you ever wondered what it would take to tackle some of humanity’s most urgent challenges such as climate change, social inequality, armed conflicts, or economic disparity? If you have, you’re not alone. For most of us, it’s easy to start feeling hopeless when you look at all the institutions and politicians who are supposed to work on these issues yet seem to lack true purpose and fall short of making any progress.

But what if THE institutions with the highest capacity to create positive change in the world were not what we usually think about – not the governments, schools, or even families but… the businesses we work in?

My guest today, Carolyn Butler Madden believes that this is exactly the case.

Carolyn envisions a world where business is not just about financial gain, but a powerful force for good, with the potential to drive profit through purpose. Her life’s work has been to empower leaders to unlock the full potential of their organizations by embedding a meaningful purpose into the fabric of their business and brand strategies.

With her book, “For Love and Money” earning the title of best Social Responsibility book in the Australian Business Book of the Year Awards, Carolyn’s literary contributions have already paved the way for many businesses seeking a purpose-driven future.

In this conversation, Carolyn and I explore personal stories of resilience, growth, and the pursuit of meaningful change through business practices. She talks about how personal purpose connects to business innovation, and how LOVE, passion, and emotional commitment drive transformative outcomes. She also discuss the challenges and successes of integrating purpose with profit, underscoring by real-life examples of leadership that prioritizes long-term value over immediate gains.

I hope this conversation gives you fresh insights into how purpose-driven leadership can unlock potential and drive growth. It certainly did it for me.

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Episode transcript

Aga Bajer  0:00  

Welcome to the CultureLab. I’m your host, Aga Bajer. This podcast helps you turn your company culture into rocket fuel for meaningful growth. It gives you the tools and inspiration to make work synonymous with fun, meaning and belonging. This is where we explore how to cultivate remarkable cultures, cultures that scale and evolve as our businesses grow, and the world keeps on changing.

Carolyn Butler Madden  0:32  

Purpose is the meaningful change your organization contributes to in the world, through and beyond its products or services.

Aga Bajer  0:48  

This episode is brought to you by CultureBrained, a one-of-a-kind accelerator program, where cultural leaders get hands-on support and guidance on how to reach their goals faster, especially now, in this brave new world of remote and hybrid work. CultureBrained connects you with outstanding peers on the same journey, but also with world-class experts, including people you know from the show. And they all help you identify and implement new, better ways of creating a culture where people do their best work. Check it out. It’s tinyurl.com forward slash CultureBrained. No need to write it down. There’s a link in the show notes. 

Have you ever wondered what it would take to tackle some of humanity’s most urgent challenges, such as climate change, social inequality, armed conflicts or economic disparity? If you have, you’re not alone. And I think it’s easy to start feeling hopeless when you look at all the institutions and politicians who are supposed to work on these issues, yet who fall short of making any progress. But what if the institution with the highest capability and capacity to create positive change in the world was not what we usually think about not the government, not the schools, not the universities but the businesses we work in? My guest today. Carolyn Butler Madden believes that this is exactly the case. Carolyn envisions a world where businesses are not just about financial gain, but they are a powerful force for good with the potential to drive profit through purpose. And her life’s work has been to empower leaders to unlock the full potential of their organizations by embedding a meaningful purpose into the fabric of their business and their brand strategies. With her book For Love and Money, and the title of Best Social Responsibility book in the Australian Business Book of the Year awards. Carolyn’s literary contributions have already paved the way for many businesses seeking a purpose-driven future. Now, in this conversation, Carolyn and I explore personal stories of resilience, growth, and the pursuit of meaningful change through business practices. Carolyn talks about how personal purpose connects to business innovation, and how love passion and emotional commitment drive transformative outcomes. She also discusses the challenges and successes of integrating purpose with profit, underscoring that there are real life examples already of leadership that prioritizes long-term value over immediate gains. So I hope that this conversation gives you some fresh insights into how purpose-driven leadership can unlock potential and drive growth. It certainly has for me Enjoy.

Carolyn Butler Madden  4:00  

Hi, I’m Carolyn Butler Madden, I’m the Chief Purpose Activist at my B Corp consultancy the Cause Effect, and I help business leaders embed purpose into their business in a meaningful way so they can drive profit through purpose. 

Aga Bajer 4:16

Carolyn, welcome to the CultureLab.

Carolyn Butler Madden  4:17  

Thank you, Aga, I’m delighted to be here.

Aga Bajer  4:20  

It’s awesome to have you here. And especially after we’ve already had a couple of conversations first in the CultureBrained community, then you were kind enough to introduce me to your podcast and interview me on your podcast. It was a great experience as well. I would definitely recommend our listeners check it out if they’re interested in cultivating the culture in a business that focuses on purpose. This is our third time and I’m really excited to dive deep into the topic that lies at the heart of your work. But before we go there, there’s one question that I ask all of our guests and you will be no exception. The question is about the early cultural influences that shaped you as a person. In other words, you know, how did you grow up? And what impact did that have on who you are today?

Carolyn Butler Madden  5:09  

It’s such an interesting question, because when I think about it, now I see what impact it had, now, at this stage in my career. I grew up, I was born in Singapore, and I grew up in Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia, and then eventually moved to Australia. When I was nine, after my dad died, Singapore and Malaysia, exposed me to different cultures, right up front, you know, and when we moved to Australia, it was Perth, Western Australia, which was very middle-class of bourbon and vanilla. And you know, I’d had this background, this rich, cultural background, which I think had a huge impact on me just seeing such diversity. And then eventually, when I was 15, I moved to the UK as well. So I had that lens, that diversity was with me from the beginning. And then my dad died, suddenly, he died of a heart attack. In the middle of a tennis game, I was nine and my sister was 12, we were living in Kualalumpur at the time. And that had a profound impact on me, actually, in a positive way, right? Because I think it made me realize that you can’t take anything for granted. And you got to be grateful for what you have here. And now, our time here is limited, and it can be snatched away very quickly. So that shaped things for me in a very, very strong way. And made me realize that you’ve got to make the best use of your time here. Whether that’s, you know, throwing yourself into fun, travel, your work, whatever it is just go all in, don’t settle for, you know, something that makes you unhappy. And then the final thing was my mum, she was a strong, independent woman who got, I think, what she would have been capable of if she was born in my generation, right? And she brought up two young girls alone. She said no to several proposals of marriage. She took us from Malaysia to Australia. And then she took me to England. And she was incredibly independent, but also just, even before my dad died, I remember, she used to take my sister and I, she, she worked for a film distribution company. And she would take my sister and I to an orphanage, and screen Disney films for the kids. And I must have been six, right? And I remember hating it. It’s awful, right? But I hated it. Because all these kids were there. And they would look at you, just stare at you. And it was so uncomfortable. A lot of them had disabilities and that’s scary for a kid. And I remember hating it at the time, but being so grateful later, because it just made me realize how fortunate we were. And she made it very clear to us. You were born into a middle-class family, not through anything you did, but by sheer luck of the draw. So do something with that. Yeah.

Aga Bajer  8:21  

Thank you for sharing this story. It’s so incredibly interesting. And I mean, I can see how all of these things that you’ve experienced would have the impact that you said they had on you. And I wonder whether, circling back to what you’ve mentioned about, you know, making the best of our time here, right? How did that play into your later focus on purpose-driven businesses? Because, I imagine that there is a connection there, probably, in the sense that well, since we’re here, we might as well have some positive impact on this planet and on on the society that we are part of. But I’m assuming that I don’t really know whether there is a connection and how did you find your way to this path and this of this career?

Carolyn Butler Madden  9:13  

Isn’t it funny when you look back? Because, yeah, it’s absolutely is the reason. So my career, I fell into marketing purely by accident. Making the most of your time here included living in London in the 80s. And going all in to just having fun, you know, traveling around Europe, and I got a job accidentally in an agency in London. Those were the days I meant to go to university. I plan to go to university, but I got caught up with having too much fun and traveling. And I came back to London, thinking well, I need more money to do more travel. I accidentally fell into an agency role in the reception and within six months they brought me into the account service team, yeah, I just went through and they opened the doors for me. And I loved it, it was fun, I got to use, you know, I got to use skills and develop my skills. But I always had this disconnect in my head about, you know, selling more soft drinks. And you know, it was just the darker parts of marketing, selling more stuff and working for big brands. Yeah, I just continued on that path for a long, long time and came back to Australia, and started working in a small agency, took partnership there, became the owner of that agency. So I ended up having 30 years agency side, working for big brands, which had nothing to do with that upbringing. But it found me in the end, because in the end, I faced a crossroads moment where it was like, Okay, I’ve got to do the work to rebuild the agency. And, you know, when I asked the question, if I was ready to do it, and I’d done it before, so I knew I could, I came up with a no, it just doesn’t, it doesn’t speak to me, in a way that’s important. And it then begs the question, what do you want to do, and I’ve been trying to steer the agency, down the path of social purpose, at a time that it was way too early for Australia. And I just thought I know it’s early. But I’ve got to do I’ve got to go all in. I don’t know what it looks like. But I’m just going to close my eyes and dive in and see what happens.

Aga Bajer  11:35  

So what I’m hearing you say is that at some point in your career, I’m assuming the business didn’t go as well as you wanted to. And the fork in the road was: do I continue on the same path? Or do I choose a different path? And basically, as you said, you decided that you didn’t want to continue on the same path. And it seemed like, what making the best out of your time on this planet will look like now is different than what it had looked like for you for decades. First of all, tell me if I’m getting it right.

Carolyn Butler Madden  12:18  

You’re getting it 100% right. And I think the only thing I would add is the 30 years I spent in the agency world allowed me to develop amazing skills that are now integral to what I do. And so you know, it was not a wasted path. Not in the slightest. So no, yeah, so rich, the learnings there and applicable to what I do today.

Aga Bajer  12:46  

Now, the reason why I really wanted to flesh it out is because I think your story is so interesting, in that it clearly illustrates that we’re all on this journey. And it’s never too late. And there are a lot of people actually, right now, middle-aged people who look back at their careers and realize that they do not want to continue on the same path because they really crave more meaning and they want to have a slightly different impact in the world. And this is, as you say, you know, this is not to say that we completely cancel or don’t value our previous careers, it’s simply that we suddenly realize that there are other, perhaps better ways or more values-aligned ways for us to live and work. And I think your story really reflects and represents a lot of stories that I hear. We often talk about, you know, the younger generation being purpose-driven, and focus on that and how it’s important for brands and organizations to be very focused on their purpose and articulated way and leave it for these generations. But I think what we really miss is that it’s not just about the youngest generation, a lot of folks, irrespective of their age and stage of their career, are coming to that point where they look around them. and they feel this is just not acceptable. And I feel like I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. What are your thoughts on that? 

Carolyn Butler Madden  14:25  

Oh, absolutely. I get, you know, I started this pivot when I was in my early 50s would have been early 50s. I turned 60 last year. So I should be winding down my career right now. I have more energy, doing what I do today. I’m just so energized by it. And I honestly think I’m doing my best work. And you know the message to your listeners who might be of certain vintage is oh my god, don’t let your age be a barrier. Let it be the thing that brings wisdom to what you do. And don’t hold back, you know, go for it, lean in.

Aga Bajer  15:15  

Yeah. I love what you said about, you know, you’re doing your best work right now. And as you know, because we had this chance on your show, I obsessively have been asking this question to people for the past 10 years. So I asked people, you know, tell me about a time you did your best work. And I discovered that there are three things that we experience when we do our best work, or three conditions that are in place, when we do our best work. And one of these conditions is meaning, and a sense that we are really making a meaningful contribution to something that is really important for us. So shifting gears slightly and moving into the direction of this topic, I think, you know, in most parts of the world anyway, purpose in business has become an expectation. As we said, irrespective of age and cultural background, employees, customers, investors and even suppliers will expect that organizations are not just thinking and focusing on increasing their profits, but that they actually want to make a positive dent in the world. But what I’m noticing, and I know that this is something that you see as well, because I’m familiar with your work, and we had a few chats already, is that a lot of business leaders really struggle to understand what it means for their business in practical terms. So today, I want us to dive a little bit deeper into this topic, and into the relationship of purpose and culture. And I want to start with the basics. What is purpose? How do you define it? 

Carolyn Butler Madden  16:56  

Purpose is the meaningful change your organization contributes to in the world, through and beyond its products or services. 

Aga Bajer  17:07  

Thank you for this definition. Because I find that sometimes, you know, we talk about purpose and mission, interchangeably, sometimes vision gets in the way as well. And we are often confused as to what is what so I’m glad that we can work with this definition together. And I know that you close the link purpose to love in business. I love the question that you asked on your podcast, which is is there a place for love in business? So I’m going to ask this question back to you. Oh, wow. Is there a place for love in business? And how does purpose and love connect? 

Carolyn Butler Madden  17:45  

Yes, 100% there’s a place for love in business, of course. In my book, For Love and Money. I wrote a preface. And the preface is, I think it’s a bit confusing to read. It’s to begin with, because it’s a love story. It’s my love story. It tells the story of me when I was living in London, and I was having a holiday romance with a Montenegrin man, so former Yugoslavia. And we’d been having this holiday romance for a few years, the Balkan Wars happened. And it was just awful. What happened at that time, this is in the early 90s. Sanctions came down. No flights were going in there. And anyway, long story short, we tried to meet in Greece, I went to Greece, and he couldn’t get out. So I, in my wisdom, in my youthful wisdom thought, well, I’ll go in. And so I share this story of how on a very sort of flimsy possibility of getting in. I did, I was actually in Greece with my ex Greek boyfriend who loved the drama of reuniting war torn lovers. He found out that I could fly to Budapest in Hungary and I might be able to get on a bus that might take me to Belgrade. But this was at the time when NATO was threatening to bomb. I did, I flew to Budapest, I walked out of the doors, and there was a bus there. And I went in and anyway, this this chapter, this preface tells the story. And it’s ridiculous that I did this. It’s ridiculous. But this is what love does. You know, it inspires you to do things that are beyond what you would expect, because it just creates something in you that you have to do it. You care so deeply. You hear stories of mothers who’ve lifted whole cars off their baby. That’s the power of love. 

Aga Bajer  19:51  

Yeah,it makes us somewhat unreasonable and I think it was George Bernard Shaw, who said that it’s the unreasonable man – and I would also add “a woman’ who creates a better world right? And makes a difference. Reasonable people usually don’t.

Carolyn Butler Madden  20:09  

Yeah, because passion, if you care enough about something, you will find a way over all the hurdles, you will care deeply about it, to think deeply about it, you will get over obstacles, you will innovate, I can understand in the industrial age, why business was shaped for factories, right? They wanted to doll people down to do the work. You know, these are the default settings. Today, business as usual, business is very much about something we have to do in order to enjoy the rest of our lives. And yet, when the world is crying out for innovative solutions, why aren’t we bringing our passion and emotion and love to it? Enough people cared deeply about the natural environment, they cared deeply about children that cared deeply about equality, there are things different things that people care deeply about. If we allow that love to flourish, you know, we’re capable of so much more as individuals and collective organizations than we give ourselves credit for, we’re seeing it happen. And so I think love has everything to do with the opportunity for business to fulfill its true potential to be a force for good in the world.

Aga Bajer  21:38  

And it strikes me that it’s especially true now in the age of AI, because basically, all the tasks that would require high IQ and a non-emotional approach to things are going to be outsourced to machines that really do calculations much faster than us, and find information so much faster than us. And so really, the only competitive advantage that an organization can have in the era of AI is that human element, and our ability to experience emotions, connect with others, and feel the passion that you talk about and feel the love that really sparks inspiration, and leads to innovation. So to me, you know, in my mind, the business case for love, at work in that sense. And, you know, it’s interesting, because in Greece, there are, I think, seven different words for love. But the one that is most well known is “agape”, which is that that sort of love that is the caring love, the love that gives us the strength and passion to do something positive. And then there’s pathos, which is all about romantic love. But I think one of the reasons why we feel uncomfortable with the word love in the western world is that we lack the language that differentiates romantic love and the other kinds of love. But it’s clear to me in that it’s so important for us to be able to inject that sort of love into the workplace. But for those of our listeners who would like to have some strong arguments for for the less convinced colleagues at work, maybe for their CEO, do you have any research or stats or arguments that could equip them that show that actually, purpose can help companies grow a profitable business? 

Carolyn Butler Madden  23:46  

Yes, I do. And before I share one that I think is a really powerful story. I just like to add this, I was speaking at an event yesterday, and I asked the audience to put up their hands if they loved what they did. And there are a lot of nonprofits in the room and you know, hands, lots of hands went up in the room. And then I said, Okay, keep your hands up. If you would still love what you do and care as passionately about it if you weren’t being paid for it. And hands came down. Most hands came down. And this is the thing, right? Even nonprofits who are in service of, you know, important causes. So many of their people are not connected to it, they’ve become so transactional. Yeah, and derailed by fundraising or corporate partnerships, or do you know what I mean, rather than being really emotionally invested in in the outcomes, so I just wanted to share that because there’s a difference between loving what you do and doing what you love. I think loving what you do is the skills you use. Doing what you love is deeper. It’s obsessive, it energizes you, it drives curiosity. And the people who are working for the most purpose-driven organizations, and who experience and serve purpose at different levels, they feel that, you know, I hear those stories time and again. So to your question, Aga, about the financial case, for purpose, it is such a strong case, there is so much data out there now, that supports the idea that purpose-driven organizations financially outperform their counterparts, the one I love to share is from the global leadership forecast from 2018. It’s by DVI, EY and the Conference Board. And it was the biggest leadership study undertaken globally, they interviewed C-suite leaders, and they put them into three different categories, those whose purpose was profit, plain and simple. That’s all they were, therefore, those who had a purpose statement. So, okay, we’ve got a purpose statement, let’s tick that box. Perhaps we connect it to our HR department or our ESG. department. But yes, we’ve done that. That’s it. And then the third group was purpose-driven, purposeful organizations whose purpose drove the company’s strategy. And as a result, they were more agile, innovative, resilient, resourceful cultures were stronger, but all sorts of outcomes came anyway, they measured the financial performance of the organization’s within those three categories. And the story is compelling. The organizations that performed at the main were those with a purpose statement. So it did nothing, just put them in the middle. Those whose purpose was profit, underperformed by 42% underperformed the mean by 42%. And those purpose-driven companies outperformed the main by 42%.

Aga Bajer  27:20  

Wow. Yeah, that’s really compelling. Why do you think that is? Why do purpose-driven businesses do so much better financially as well?

Carolyn Butler Madden  27:30  

I think it’s because of a couple of things. One, they’re not afraid to challenge the rules to do things differently. And they tap into the power of their people. You know, you talked about the rate of change before Aga, and you think back to five years ago, and how different our world was pre-pandemic to how it is now. There are so many things that have changed phenomenally, five years from now, we don’t know what the world looks like, we really don’t know. So people are the key. They are absolutely the frontline, to risk and opportunity. I find it insane that some business leaders still don’t understand the value of their people and the untapped value of their people. So to your question, I think purpose-driven companies tap into people power. I’ve just finished reading a book by Hubert Jolly, who was the former CEO of BestBuy. He became CEO I think it was in 2012. Best Buy an electronic retail chain in the US. Big. And the analysts were basically putting up the death notices because Amazon had come out and it was dying. You know, it was in its death throes. Hubert Jolly came in, he took over the leadership and he and his leadership team turned Best Buy around by putting people and purpose at the heart of the business. And his book is called The Heart of Business. The secondary part, it’s about leadership in the new era of capitalism or something like that. It talks about how he did it. And it’s all about people. It’s about unleashing the power of people. He calls it unleashing human magic to create improbable results. And that is a superpower.

Aga Bajer  29:46  

It is a superpower. And it’s also quite intuitive, right? I think for most people, we wouldn’t disagree with that premise that we need to unlock the power of our people to be successful at work. and probably also wouldn’t disagree that we can unlock the power of our people by creating a purpose-driven business. And yet, for some reason, very few businesses actually succeed in truly doing that. At least this is what I see from where I sit, you know, we consult and support organizations to create an environment where people can do their best work. And I know that our clients are in a tiny minority still, of organizations who are truly committed to actually doing it, not just talking about it, who are as you and I say, activists rather than advocates of the idea. And I’m really curious about your take as to what stands in the way. Why are so few organizations, still, doing the work, you know, and walking the talk? Is it a lack of knowledge around how to do it? Is that short-termism? Like? What are the obstacles that you see that stand in the way?

Carolyn Butler Madden  31:07  

There are three key obstacles, but I want to come back to something else. That is the thing that stands behind them to begin with. And they’re consequential, right? So the first big obstacle is that there’s different understandings of what purpose means in an organization, and the role of purpose in the organization. So in a leadership team, you’ve got people, you know, some people who think it’s one thing, some people who think it’s something else, and you don’t have that alignment and consistency. And then that leads to the next barrier, which is your leadership team, or an organization’s leadership team isn’t driven by it. Right, they’re not walking the talk. And then that leads to the third barrier, which is your people don’t believe it, it’s a statement. And they don’t believe it, they don’t trust in it, because they don’t see it in action. From the top, the elephant in the room, I think if you know, most of these leaders today, wherever they come from, they’ve been to Stanford and and all these universities, they have been taught a way of doing business that has worked for them. And now, people are telling them younger people are saying, hang on, we need to do things differently. But it’s worked for them. So you know, they’re looking at little tweaks to respond. But they don’t know what they don’t know. And you know, they’ve come through understanding a certain idea of what business should be and how it looks. And that’s the way it is. And yet, we see some that stand out. I have my share a story of someone who really inspires me and a story that I think just really, yeah, absolutely. shows the kind of courageous leadership we need. Paul Polman at Unilever. He is the former former CEO of Unilever. And he’s on my fantasy dinner party list. So 2009, he took over the role of CEO at Unilever. It was his first CEO role, he’d come from Nestle as CFO. And on the very first day of his new job, he made a public announcement. And, Aga, he said, from today, Unilever will no longer focus on short-term profit results. Our focus is going to be long term value creation. And what that means is we won’t issue quarterly financial reports we won’t issue earnings guidance. And then he went one step further. And this is Unilever. Right? And he went one step further. And he said, and for those shareholders who don’t like this, respectfully, I suggest you take your money and invest it somewhere else.

Aga Bajer  34:04  

And this is a very, very consistent story, by the way, because, for example, Gary Ridge, the former president and CEO of WD 40. I’ve been in a number of conversations with him, both in the CultureBrained community with our community members and on the podcast and offline as well. And this is exactly what he did in WD 40 as well. So I see these stories of very courageous leaders who really take a stand and say, We are not going to be driven by short term because of course, if you are then I think it’s very, very hard to be a truly purpose driven organization. Yeah. So what happened? What happened with Unilever after that statement? 

Carolyn Butler Madden  34:47  

Within a year, they released their 10 year Unilever sustainable living plan. And at the heart of that plan, they put huge ambitious goals and at the time, they Did it they said, Look, you know, we know this doesn’t fit the mold of SMART goals, specific, measurable attainable. It was specific ,was measurable, but ambitious should replace attainable, right? But he said we will do whatever we can to achieve these goals. And he said, but if we don’t we know we will have changed the business along the way. And under his leadership, you know, they did achieve the goals. I think they overshot some of them and slightly became under on a couple of the others or on one of the others, but they changed the business, and innovation is coursing through Unilever. So the next CEO took over, Alan Joe. And he went further into it. He said, every Unilever brand will be a purpose-driven brand. He got hammered by the market. Right. You know, there was some very vocal investors, one who called out and said when a when a mayonnaise has a purpose, you know, they’ve lost the plot, you know, Unilever have become too woke. But here’s the story that you may well know, but so many people don’t. Hellman’s mayonnaise, their purpose is around food waste. And they’re doing a lot around food waste, including, you know, how you use the product mayonnaise, to make leftovers more tasty and things like that. The story behind that criticism is that Hellman’s mayonnaise, grew their market share, and outperformed the category, that investor was being vocal because of short-term profits. And yet at the long term growth and value creation was there. And I think it was in 2017, that Kraft tried to take them over, the Unilever shareholders pushed back and refused to sell because they were locked into that long-term value creation. And shortly after that Kraft actually came a cropper because their accounting practices came under the microscope, and they had to write down a whole stack of debt. And so it kind of tells the story of long-term value creation versus short-term profits.

Aga Bajer  37:26  

And one of the reasons why I love this story is that there is such a golden nugget around what he talked about, you know, even if we fail, then at least we will have, you know, transformed our business. And this is a phrase actually, that I use when I work with organizations where we try to zoom in on what the articulation of their purpose is going to be, and what’s the real purpose. And this is one of the questions that I offer to people and encourage them to reflect on. You know, even if you fail to achieve your key strategic goals, at least you will have done what? Like what would be worth it, even if you don’t hit your financial targets. And in a way, it’s an invitation for companies and leadership teams to say, what is even more important to us than profits, at least short-term profits, right? This is not to say that profits are not important, but you lead with something right? You either lead with profits, or you lead with purpose. Of course, there is a balancing act there. And eventually, of course, you optimize for both, otherwise you will go out of business. But to me, you have to lead with something. 

Carolyn Butler Madden  38:47  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, profit is a purpose. Right? Profitability is a purpose. It’s just about the money. That’s our purpose. We’re here to make as much money as possible for the shareholders for ourselves. But yeah, profit. When you look at profit and purpose as a relational thing, then yeah, look, you know, companies can’t go from being profit-driven to purpose-driven overnight, they’ve got to go through a balancing phase, where the question that needs to be asked is, What will we leave money on the table for? We’re not always going to leave money on the table. But what would we leave it on the table for?

Aga Bajer  39:27  

Yeah, absolutely. There’s such a great story that Gary Ridge actually shared with me on that. He said, you know, when I was early in my career in WD 40, I had a supplier who approached me and the supplier said, Gary, I’m going to make you a hero of WD 40. Everyone will know your name and people will be so incredibly grateful. One of the ingredients of your product, which is this, you know, a can of lubricant that basically greases, the squeaky parts in our locks and other things. He said, one of the ingredients, we have found that we can produce that significantly cheaper, it works in exactly the same way as your old ingredients. And in the next quarter, if you replace your old one with ours, you will save at least $2 million. So you will be the hero of the company. And Gary said, you know, tell me more. And he said, listen, same thing, it does the same thing, the only thing that you will need to do is you will have to put this little note on your can, that this specific ingredient is considered carcinogenic, in the state of California. And Gary was like, Listen, this is not how we create positive memories for our customers by giving them cancer. This is not for us. And I love this story. Because speaking of how you live those values, this is really in decisions like daily decisions when you have conversations with your suppliers or your employees and how you make them. And what’s the ultimate criterion, right? Is it profits at all costs? Or are you always trying to align yourself with your purpose, why you exist, and you know what impact you want to make in the world? Oh, we could take this conversation in so many directions. And I’m also mindful of time, what will be useful for our listeners, is addressing some of these obstacles that you’ve mentioned. And the first one that you’ve mentioned, is the lack of alignment, and even clear articulation of what our purpose really is. I think that is particularly challenging for organizations that are not explicitly purpose-driven. There are some organizations like you know, NGOs, and so on that have a very clear mission that has a social impact, for example, and things seem to be pretty straightforward for them. But for organizations that just sell a product like WD 40, by the way, you know, a can of lubricants, it’s not a sexy product, how do you arrive at a purpose that is inspiring and authentic? And that kind of aligns everyone around what we’re trying to do? Do you have a process in mind that you use with your clients, or any advice for our listeners as to how to accomplish that? 

Carolyn Butler Madden  42:29  

I have a whole methodology. And it starts with brand positioning. But I’ve actually done some deeper work. So it starts with the brand work I do I call it the brand purpose blueprint. And it has always started with who, right before we even think about why we start with who and the deeper work I’m now talking about. There’s the interconnection of three key pillars, that I think is the underlying foundation of the most successful purpose-driven companies. And that is identity, this start with who really getting clear on who are we, as a group of people, what is our unique organizational identity? And by that, I mean, who were the best of us. So when I workshop this with clients, we go into subgroups. And it’s like, I want you to think of real people who you think are brilliant. They really represent what the company stands for. Who are they tell me about them? What drives them? What do they care about? What do they love? What do they believe, and I know you’re a big Seth Godin fan as I am. And I know you’ve had him on the show. And I reference his work in this, which is people like us do things like this. But we then take it to people like us believe things like this. People like us care about things like this, people like us behave like this. And when you think about the best of us, it’s not just your employees, because this identity attracts like-minded customers, like-minded suppliers, like-minded partners and collaborators. And it’s amazing what happens. I’ve done this with big companies and small, and it’s probably the piece of feedback that comes back the most, which is, oh my God, who we are, that is us. Because it’s there, but they haven’t done the work to really think about it. And once you get that clarity of who we are, who are the best of us are and who we want to be, that’s when you can start really, you know, if you already have a purpose, you can start looking at that and connecting it to that. Or if you don’t, you know, you start with who and that then starts to drive, the work you do around purpose. And that is vision, mission, promise and social purpose. But I won’t get into that. But start with who and that identity piece and that purpose piece overlap to deliver a shared narrative. And this shared narrative is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. The story Our customers tell themselves about themselves. And you attract like-minded people, and don’t misunderstand me. It’s not about a lack of diversity, that people who come from different backgrounds, but to what you care about what drives you?

Aga Bajer  45:44  

Yeah, I think we do need to have something in common, right? I think one of, for me, one of the biggest misconceptions around diversity is pushback against shared values or a shared purpose. But really, to be able to leverage diversity, we also need to have some common ground. Like, if we have nothing in common, then you can have as much diversity as you want, but it’s not going to bring about positive change. So really just landing on, what do we have in common, right? What are we passionate about? And, and what do we believe in? And what are our shared values is incredibly important. And it doesn’t mean that as an employee, this is the only thing that you are going to care about from now on, right? Of course, you have a million things that you care about. But one of those million things is the company purpose. And I think that’s, that’s important. Because if people don’t care about what your organization is doing, you know, they will probably never do what they love, as you’ve mentioned, and that nuance of loving what we do versus doing what we love, they will not even be able to grasp what it means and what it looks like. 

Carolyn Butler Madden  47:00  

Yeah. So I think that that identity piece is such an important and undervalued piece in the process, when you start to have that shared narrative, and you get clear on the purpose that then drives Transformative Leadership. So that’s where leaders start showing up, and acting with purpose and aligned with their identity. And a big part of it, I think, is also connecting your personal purpose to the organizational purpose. And that’s work that I’m seeing being done in some of the bigger companies like Unilever and Best Buy. And then the third piece is stories. Because once you have that Transformative Leadership, it inspires people to act. And when they act, you create stories, because stories are evidence of purpose and action and identity and action. Some beautiful stories emerge. The book I told you about about Best Buy. Their purpose is to enrich lives with technology, and it’s propelled them into health care, and aged care. And truly purpose has driven their expansion in surprising ways. But he tells the story of how, and this goes to their identity of how a customer, a mom walked into a Best Buy store with her four-year-old son who was devastated because he was holding his toy dinosaur and the dinosaurs had had broken. And she walked into the store knowing it couldn’t be repaired, it would have to be replaced. And the best buy blue shirts, they’re called the customer service attendants. There were two of them. And instead of saying, okay, aisle six over there, they, you know, said Come on, let’s have a look. And they tenderly took the dinosaur from the child’s hand. And one of them said, well, let’s have a look at him. And let’s see if maybe we can do an operation on him, while the other one surreptitiously went to the aisle. And so this first one is pretending to operate on the dinosaur, and, you know, distracts the child at some point and swaps out the new dinosaur for the old one, and gives him his repaired dinosaur who’s been operated on. Now, that story’s magical. And the gift of that story as well, to the mother, who will tell that story to her family and friends, that mother is never going to go anywhere else but Best Buy. And the friends you know that hear that story are going to see Best Buy in a whole new light and it’s just showing up in ways that show you care about what you do a