The "Secret" Ingredients of Corporate Soul

I've referred to corporate soul as the "killer ingredient" of success. Three factors need to be present in a company for it to have a vibrant corporate soul: (i) A purpose that the company stands for that is higher than the wealth of its shareholders or the security of its employees. A purpose is the difference a company makes to the lives of its customers through its core activities and primary products. A company with purpose makes a difference in the lives of its customers not only in material ways but in intangible, human ways too. A company with purpose provides its customers both with comfort and convenience and also with dignity and honor. "Customers must recognize that you stand for something," said Starbucks' Howard Schultz. (ii) The second factor is the executive backbone to uphold the purpose for which the company stands. Johnson and Johnson risked the survival of their company when they pulled Tylenol off the shelves in 1986. More recently Merck sacrificed $2.4bn of revenue when it withdrew Vioxx from the market; both did it because of possible harmful side-effects to patients whose health was core to their purpose - more so than shareholder wealth. Herb Kelleher was known to "fire" customers who were abusive to Southwest employees irrespective of the potential loss to the company, because "employees first" gave life to the Southwest soul. (iii) The third factor is having not just great leaders, but more importantly great human beings in positions of leadership. These great human beings are men and women of character who are authentic, true and upright in everything they do and who inspire the people around them with their values and their vision. Great leadership is more about character than about competence.

When a company has corporate soul it goes much further than culture, values and leadership. It permeates everything in a company, even its products. It makes them different, unique and desirable. Steve Jobs said, "Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service."

Think of companies that you believe have soul, and compare their performance with that of their industry peers. The correlation might surprise you.

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