Digging Deep into Corporate Purpose
When purpose moves front and center, a company can attract better talent and better customers. This is not conjecture. Dov Baron, via his leadership consulting practice, has proven it over and over. Dov, who is also a top podcaster, best-selling author and speaker, gets to purpose by asking the tough questions. No wonder he sees himself as the “father of dragons,” helping executive teams find their own distinct purpose, and a collective purpose for the organization. This means digging deep and even exploring one’s biggest fears. There’s obviously a lot more to it and we spend a lot of time in this episode exploring why “starting with why” is in fact just the beginning of every organization’s purpose-seeking journey.
On this week’s episode, Dov and Drew are also joined by a live audience of industry-leading CMOs, who weigh-in and help shape the engaging discussion. Listen in for more about the best way to find the why of your why, which questions you really should be asking to get there, and how to get tangible results from shining a light on your company’s purpose.
Full Transcription: Drew Neisser in Conversation with Dov Baron
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! Over the last 174 episodes, the notion of purpose as it relates to brand building has come up innumerable times, but amazingly, we’ve never dedicated an entire episode to the topic. Well, that changes now with episode 175, featuring a very special guest and a live audience of CMOs who will join the conversation in the latter part of the show.
In this episode, we will explore what purpose is and isn’t, how you find yours, aligning a brand purpose with individual purpose, and some real-world examples of the power of purpose. Now, speaking of doing things on purpose, my guest today, Dov Baron, is a genuine Renegade Thinker. He is the founder of Full Monty Leadership and a bestselling author. He is recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers to hire. He is the host of the Roku TV show “Pursuing Deep Greatness with Dov Baron” and the host of the #1 podcast for Fortune 500 listeners globally, “Dov Baron’s Leadership and Loyalty Show.” Dov Baron, welcome to the show.
Dov Baron: Thank you all. Appreciate it.
Drew Neisser: Before we get too deep into this topic, let’s start broadly. The word purpose is thrown around a lot in marketing and in consulting circles. When you use the word purpose, what do you mean?
Dov Baron: You and I have had discussions about this before. I like the fact that we’re always talking about purpose, but I think that oftentimes we don’t look at it in the depth that we need to. For me, when I talk about purpose, I’m talking about a psychological primary driver in a human being and collectively, the psychological, primary drivers of an executive team that I work with when I’m working with a company to find a collective purpose that is going to drive that organization. What that means is it is deeply emotionally connected, and it is deeply meaningful as opposed to some mission statement with a lick of paint that’s dressed up to look like purpose.
Oftentimes people come to you and say, “We found our purpose.” You listen to them and go, “Oh, well, it’s really a mission statement you’ve just retitled.
Drew Neisser: What’s the difference between a mission statement and a purpose?
Dov Baron: A mission statement is, “This is our mission. This is what we want to do.” Our vision is, “This is where we want to be at a certain point in time and how it will look. This is when we get there.” But our purpose is, “What is the fuel that drives us?” One of the distinctions that I help people to understand is this: when I ask somebody if they know the difference between purpose and passion, most people don’t. They think it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s not.
Passion is transitory and if you are entrepreneurial, then you can often feel like you’re a bit flaky because you’re always jumping from place to place. Passions change. Your passions are supposed to change. They’re a vehicle. They transport your purpose. They are not your purpose. Passion is what transports the purpose. The purpose is a deep psychological driver, it’s not a passion. They’re vastly different.
Drew Neisser: I get that. One of the things that I think is really interesting is, when I hear you talk, so much about purpose is a very individualized notion and that’s where you start. Help us understand how you help these executives get to an individual purpose and then from there we can move forward to a corporate purpose.
Dov Baron: That’s a great question. At an individual level, there’s a whole methodology to this and we work with companies and help them do it and it takes a full day of just boiling it down. We do two days, one day where everybody works on their own and the second day where we bring it all together and work on it as corporate. But just to start everybody off in a way for you to make this real for yourself, I want to ask a couple of questions.
What I’m going to ask you to do for a minute is think about something that has bugged you off for as long as you can remember. Not something that bothers you this week in politics or this week in the news, but something that has bugged you for as long as you can remember. It makes you think, why hasn’t somebody fixed that yet? Why isn’t that sorted out? What you’ve got there is what’s called a long-term, chronic, and low-grade pain, meaning you’re still running on with your life, but if that comes up in a conversation at a dinner party, you’re going to act on that.
Dov Baron: That’s the first thing. What is the long-term chronic irritant? What once bugged you for as long as you can remember? Next. When you think about your life and you think about where you want to go, stop for a minute and ask yourself this question. What is the question I don’t want to ask? The question I don’t allow myself to ask. Now, the truth is, you do ask it, but it’s only very quietly in you’re own head and you don’t bring it forward. It’s this undercurrent stuff, it’s below the surface. It’s usually not positive and oftentimes there are traits of imposter syndrome in there.
Next what I would ask you to do is think, if they were talking about the best parts of yourself in your eulogy, what would you want them to say? I’ll tell you mine and that way you’ll see how this works. Mine says, “Dov was a highly courageous man who lived his life on purpose, who helped others to find their dragon fire so they could become dragons in the world by living on purpose and creating an impact that lasts longer than they do, touching the lives of those who do not know their name.” That’s a fabulous eulogy, I want them to say that. It’s hard to live up to every day, don’t get me wrong, but it’s there.
Drew Neisser: The dragon is so timely with Game of Thrones. I want to take a quick break because I want to ponder this for a second. When we’re back, we’ll explore this a little bit more. Stay with us.
Drew Neisser: We’re back. And Dov just shared his purpose and I thought it would be interesting, given that purpose and given that write your own tombstone now notion, perhaps you could share how you got there. I know there’s a dramatic story that happened. Maybe you could talk about that moment. Were you writing it as you were falling or during the recovery process?
Dov Baron: For those of you who don’t know, in June 1990, I fell 120 feet, approximately twelve stories, off a mountain while free climbing. I was an adrenaline junkie back in those days and got smashed to pieces. Everybody said that must have been the moment that changed my life. It wasn’t. It changed my life physically for sure, but it didn’t change my life in other ways. I was smashed to pieces, I’ve had more than 10 reconstructive surgeries, it was a big old mess. But when people would ask me, “How are you doing?” my answer in my very macho way would be, “I’m great. I’m coming back.”
Well, I got news for you, that’s not how life works, there is no back. I was not coming back. It was about nine months after that fall and many reconstructive surgeries that I was really feeling like I was never going to come back. About nine months in I fell into this very deep, dark depression, realizing that all this “I’m coming back” was nonsense and I knew that. In that moment, I realized I had one of three paths: to keep trying to come back, to stay where I was feeling like a victim of circumstance, or to find out why I’m here. To find out the purpose of my life beyond every success. At that moment before I fell, I was at the top of my game, but I realized it was without meaning, it didn’t have the meaning I craved on a regular basis.
That was where I had to turn in to the dragon’s fire. I had to be willing to face this thing that would be painful to look at. I had to be willing to answer those questions that I asked you earlier on.
Drew Neisser: We’re in front of a bunch of marketers who are responsible for helping their organizations find their purpose and express their purpose, and while I get that I have to get there internally, help me make the leap from my individual purpose to the corporate purpose. And I’m going to share a story. I was with a group of CMOs at a CMO Club Awards banquet a few months ago and I asked all the folks in the room to tell us about their company in eight words or less. We went around the room and everybody basically said what they did. Then one woman said, “We’re making lives better through health care and enlightenment” or something.
I can’t remember the exact words. I called her out on that and said, “You’re the only one who described your company that way. She said, “That has been the most transformative thing that’s happened to our organization. We now hire, fire, and evaluate based on that purpose.” It really helps because individuals can find a way to align with that purpose. If they’re not aligned with the purpose, they’re probably at the wrong company and they won’t be happy. So that’s this bridge, this big leap that we’re talking about, and I’m wondering how you navigate that leap from individual purpose and individual pains to corporate purpose.
Dov Baron: Absolutely. We do that work initially with all the individuals, then we put it collectively together on that second day. One of the questions is, what do all these individual purposes have in common? There’s always something. As you and I were talking about before, one of the companies we were working with recently was a health technology company. All of the executive team, there were six of them, had their own unique individual purposes but when we put it together, we found, “Oh, this is what it is. “Then we came up with what this company’s unique purpose was.
Then I asked, “If you went out there and said to everybody who works here and said, ‘This is our purpose,’ what would happen?” They said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Well, what do you think would be the responses? Do you think some people would go, ‘Whatever’?” They said, “Yeah.” “Do you think some people would be very excited?” “Yes.” “Do you think anybody would be neutral?” “No.” That’s how you know it is purpose. It doesn’t have neutrality. It has to have an emotional pull. In the work, we’re always looking for a purpose that you and fire on, because here’s the thing, in the war on talent, talent won. They get the power, they get the choice, not us, and they want meaningful work. We look at them and we say, “Oh, millennials, those kids.” Hold on a second, millennials this year are 40 years old. They’re not kids, they’re in leadership positions, and the number one thing on their list is meaningful work.
What does meaningful work mean? I want to align with the purpose of this organization. Now, here’s what’s fascinating about it for you guys in the CMO world. Your buyer wants an alignment of purpose as well. They want to feel like there’s a meaning, a connection that’s beyond the product. That purpose piece has to come front and center in everything that is going on so that I feel like I’m not just buying from this great company because they create a great product or it’s the right price, but because there’s an alignment with the meaning. I know friends who will spend more because of an alignment with a brand’s purpose than they do with another brand that is pretty much identical.
I often work with companies who are in the commoditized business, meaning that they are in the financial services business. Millions of them and they’re all doing the same thing. What’s the difference? It has to be purpose.
Drew Neisser: You’re preaching to the choir with me, and I know that many of the listeners and in the CMOs who have joined us believe this in their hearts. I think there is some sense, though, like the word “brand,” that “purpose” is a fluffy idea. You talk about purpose; I need to drive revenue. You talk about purpose; I need people coming to the website to buy our product. We’re dealing with B2B, long sales cycles, and all these other challenges. In your experience working with a different company where this purpose was communicated, what was the impact that it had on employees, customers, and prospects, and how has that actually manifested into revenue?
Dov Baron: That’s a great question. I’ll pick a couple of examples in 10,000 foot view and then we can go anywhere you want with them. At a consulting firm, the founder of that company came to me to do the work. We worked privately, then we started working with his company and his organization. That company, over the last 12 years, has grown 5000%. They’ve become a global organization and have grown enormously. They’ve got coaches and people working with them across the world. Another company we were working with, a health technology company, used what we had given them and were able to raise $100 million dollars for their next tier of development. They said it couldn’t have been done without purpose, it couldn’t have been done without it. Everybody was aligned, not only with the executive team but everybody in that financing room.
A financial advisory company in my city, when we started working with them, they were pretty small. They’ve tripled their employees and pivoted completely about who their target audience is. The first meeting is nothing other than purpose. They speak the entire meeting about purpose and refuse to work with people who are not aligned with that purpose. All their hiring processes for executive level individuals go through me because their hiring is based on purpose, no matter what the skill level is. As a result, there is way better communication, way better conflict resolution. Those are some tangible, practical results of real purpose.
Drew Neisser: Again, I’m a believer. Before we wrap up this segment and open the floor for questions, Simon Sinek has really popularized this notion with his book, “Start with Why.” One of the reasons that purpose exercises might not succeed is because they end with why and don’t start with why. Talk a little bit about your thoughts on that.
Dov Baron: I’ll go into a company and they’ll say, “We read Simon’s work,” and I go, “Great.” I love Simon’s work, it’s a fabulous book and I encourage people to read it, but I ask, “What’s the title of the book?” And they go, “Start with Why” I go, “Right. ‘Start with,’ but you’re not finished. What’s the why of your why?” Most people have got to this first “why” and it’s really a mission statement with a lick of paint, so what’s the why of your why? If it wasn’t about the money, what’s it about? What’s the meaning, for you?
Here’s the hard question, what does this heal in you? I know it’s probably not where you want to go, but I’m going to ask you privately, what does this heal in you? This is your purpose. My work is about bringing home the disenfranchised parts of yourself, because the disenfranchised parts of yourself you disenfranchise to become as successful as you are. We’ve all become incredibly successful at what we do, we’re very good at what we do, and that’s wonderful. I applaud you. Part of that was through the discipline, the dedication, and the commitment to move certain things to the side and go headlong and focus in on something. That’s great. Wonderful.
But some of the things you disenfranchised, you now need to bring back in to move into purpose. They got you to success, but they don’t get you to fulfillment, and fulfillment comes through purpose. That’s, again, asking those questions that we don’t really want to ask.
Drew Neisser: I have some extra folks to ask some questions, but we’re going to take a quick break.
Drew Neisser: We’re back. Raise your hand if you have a question for Doug because I need your help in what this means to you as an individual and what you’re thinking about while he’s sharing some of these ideas.
Audience: I’m totally bought in on the purpose concept and finding meaning. As a brand marketer, it often starts at “find your brand,” and I think we’ve done a good job of defining our purpose. What I’d love to understand is how to mobilize your team. How do you bring that purpose to an organization, that consulting company or that healthcare startup, starting with the leadership team? Tell me about how you were able to actually activate that within the organization and drive that change management.
Dov Baron: Great question. The first thing we do when we go out to deliver the purpose, we focus groups inside of the organization. The focus groups has one purpose only, and that is, “Here’s the purpose, now, each one of us is going to say what you think that means.” This is really important because all meaning is subjective.
The greatest challenge of being a brand manager, of being a marketing guy, is to try and get a cohesive meaning around something that is subjective. The first thing we do is look at the collective meaning inside of each of the focus groups, and then we find out if we need to restate this in a way that brings it home for everybody. It sounds kind of weird but what’s miraculous about it is how, because of that boiling down process, because we do it so intently in the initial stage, most people will get very close to the collective meaning of the statement. They’ll get to it but then here’s the tie-in. Ask, how does this tie to your purpose?
Remember, now we’re asking the manager, who hasn’t gone through the exercise, who may not even know that purpose. Every single time, the person looks psychologically to hook their purpose into it, even if they don’t know what it is, because the #1 thing people want is meaning. They want meaning in their life, and they’ll attach to meaning if they don’t have their own. That’s how you get buy-in. Some people will say, “I totally disagree with that.” Great. Here’s a check. Off you go. See you later. Find another job.
Drew Neisser: I’m going to summarize because I think this is interesting. You get the executive team on board, then you have to work your way down. But I think a lot of companies because they’ve got 400 people, they’ve got 700 people, struggle with this notion. “Do I have to do a focus group with every single employee? And if so, then I guess I have to trickle that down and train the trainers to bring this to a personalized level.” Is that just what we’re talking about here?
Dov Baron: Kind of. In my last book, which was called “Fiercely Loyal,” I talk about having what we call “a cultural concierge.” Somebody who takes care of the culture, they’re actually the person taking care of the purpose. They’re the ones who set up these groups and we’ve done it in very large organizations in two days. In two days, everybody was able to do a focus group in 15 minutes. Everybody leaves way more enthusiastic and connected and it’s not hard to do.
Drew Neisser: I love “cultural concierge.” I’m wondering if the folks in the audience are thinking about this and saying, “Is this a new hire for me? Is this me partnering with HR?” Next question.
Audience: Thank you for this, it’s a very invigorating discussion. I’m wondering, how do you look at this from taking that next step so that the clients feel the purpose? Now that you have internal buy-in, what successful situations have you seen that extend its way out so that it gets in the client’s sphere? How do you break through the walls?
Dov Baron: It depends. Are we talking about in a marketing advertising way or are we talking about it in a conversational, sale-to-sale way?
Audience: I’m looking at it from both standpoints. How do you operationalize it so that it is part of your extended brand and what do people do with it when they’re dealing with people externally? Do they start having that discussion as well and sharing it? I would imagine that could be a big win.
Dov Baron: That’s exactly it. We say, “Please have exactly the same discussion with everybody that you interact with.” One of the companies we were working with, they have a sales team and they asked, “How does this work with us for sales?” I said, “I don’t want you to go selling your next sales meeting. I want you to go in and talk about purpose, but you only have two questions. What does this mean to you, and how does it tie to your purpose?” We have people who’ve used it in their marketing and in their advertising.
Because we do a lot of work with CMOs and a marketing people, what we say is, “Here’s the thing to understand: when we do that first day, the thing we’re going to get to is likely going to be what we call the ‘internal purpose statement,’ and then we have an ‘external purpose statement.’ The internal purpose statement is the eulogy. It’s a bit long. But the external one, it’s much shorter. The internal one should feel a bit like it’s a big claim.
Drew Neisser: Any other questions?
Audience: It’s just a quick question, do you think in this wonderful world of so many different industries and segments that every company can find this type of a purpose?
Dov Baron: I do without doubt. As with all things, I do if you want to. If you say you want to because it’s the cool, trendy thing to do, but you don’t really want to answer the hard questions, you don’t really want to go there, then no. Can we get there with anybody? Yes. It doesn’t matter to me what kind of company you are, but you’ve got to want to get there.
Drew Neisser: From a marketing standpoint, if the CMOs role is to differentiate and distinguish, to position your company as a unique entity, it’s easier to do that via a purpose that’s real than it is through features and functionality. It can be an ordeal to get there, but in my opinion, the likelihood of finding a purpose that is unique to your organization and therefore unique to the world and the marketplace is much greater than some sort of feature/function kind of differentiation.
Dov Baron: In the world that we live in today, so much is commoditized. If you’re in insurance, you’re in a commoditized business. If you don’t have a unique position, a point of differentiation that has emotional content, you’re not going to stand out. It’s more commoditized and more global than it’s ever been. You guys are in marketing, you understand that the driving force of human beings is not rationale, it’s not logic, it’s emotion. What is the deepest connection to emotion? It is purpose.
Drew Neisser: Is there another question before we wrap up?
Audience: Our company in the process of going through brand purpose work and maybe 15 to 20% along the way. What I’m concerned about is ending up somewhere that’s really aspirational and then there’s a gap between where we are and where the bulk of our employees are. It feels a little daunting.
I get it from an emotional perspective. I want to end up there, I want everyone to wake up and be totally jazzed about what we’re doing, but I’m just a little nervous of what that work is going to look like. If I had to guess, it’ll be a 12 to 24-month journey to really get every one of our 500 employees living, breathing, acting this purpose out.
Dov Baron: I think you gave the clue to yourself there and I think that’s one of the things that we confront all the time. There is no “there.” You’re looking at this being a 90-day process, but it’s not. This is the lifeblood of your company. This is always ongoing, it’s always deepening, and you’re always reinvigorating it. It’s integrating every single day, bringing it in. One of the things around that is that we are feeding into every conversation. Every marketing conversation, every sale. It’s way below the foundation, it comes up through the foundation, and it grows into the company. It is not a “done.”
People say to me, “How long does it take to do this work?” We come in and do the work with you in two days, that’s what we do. However, the integration of it, you are going to be doing that with every new employee who comes in and you’re going to set up the groups and do the things we just talked about. You’re going to assign people to be the corporate cultural concierge, and they’re going to keep it in flow because you can’t afford this to be something you just spent $200-grand on to get to in a couple of months. It will wear thin if you don’t keep re-invigorating it. You’ve got to keep breathing into it, you’ve got to keep adding the fuel to it every single day.
Drew Neisser: What a great place for us to wrap up this show, I. I love this conversation. I want I thank our guests for joining and asking your questions and of course, to Dov for being on the show. What I loved about the last part of this is, this is not a coat of paint. This is the opposite of that. As it comes up from the inside, you’re essentially remaking the organization from the ground up when you do this right and it becomes more real.
Everything that you’re doing in marketing and driving and marketing is making it more real because the purpose becomes infused in hiring, in your employee communications, in your sales process, and even in your testimonials and how your customers speak about you. Gradually it becomes marketing and the house is a lot shinier, but it really is very much not an end state. It is a permanent commitment to aspiring to be something profound.
One of the things that’s great about being an entrepreneur is that you don’t have to convince an organization to go along with it, but I think what’s great about being a CMO is that through this you’re bringing purpose into the organization, and in the process or transforming it, suddenly the CEO looks at you and says, “You just changed our whole approach to business.” And that’s, I think, what is so exciting about being a CMO right now. Dov anything else that you would like to say or where people can find you out there?
Dov Baron: Well, I’ll tell you where you can find me first. You can simply go to dovbaron.com, which will redirect you to fullmontyleadership.com, our corporate site. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook. I write for 12 or 14 different outlets and I’ve got a bunch of books that you can find through my website or through Amazon, and there’s also a YouTube channel with about 700 videos on it.
The bottom line is this. I am going to finish off by saying one thing, but I want to encourage you to go to wherever you listen to podcasts, and rate, review, subscribe, and share Drew’s show. Share this Renegade show with other marketers, with other people. Get it out there. Be generous, because it is in your generosity that you get to recognize your abundance and you get to recognize that you are unique.
What I want to finish with is this. Please stay curious, my friends, stay curious. Curiosity is the foundation of everything that is good in your life and it is the thing that we are all pulled away from. As marketers, it’s so easy to go the other way, but that is the power. Staying curious, it connects you to your fire.
Drew Neisser: Love that. Thank you, Dov. And again, to all the listeners, so grateful that you spent this time with us. Until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.