Grow: A book review by Bob Morris

Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Great Companies
Jim Stengel
Crown Business (2011)

How and why “maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible. They’re inseparable.”

Jim Stengel begins the first chapter with two separate but related questions: “What makes a business grow beyond the competition? What powers an enterprise to the top and keep it there?” In response, he offers “a new framework” whose central principle is the importance of having a brand ideal. That is, a shared goal of improving people’s lives. A brand ideal is s business’ essential reason for being, the higher order it brings to the world.”

If this seems a tad idealistic, if not naïve, consider the fact that recent research, including a ten-year growth study Stengel conducted of more than 50,000 [that’s correct: 50,000] brands around the world, revealed the need for the framework that he then devised.  So what? The data from his study indicates that companies with ideals of improving lives at the center of all they do outperform the market by a huge margin. For example, the return on an investment in the top 50 companies in his study would have been 400% more than an investment in the Standard & Poor’s 500.

A key term in Stengel’s book is what he calls the “Ideal Factor,” one that keeps renewing and strengthening great businesses through good times and bad. Having a brand ideal “is the only sustainable way to recruit, unite, and inspire all the people a business touches, from empl9iyees to customers. It is the only thing that enduringly connects the core beliefs of the people inside a business with the fundamental human values of the people the business serves. Without that connection, without a brand ideal, no business can excel”…or survive.

Stengel focuses most of his attention in the book on explaining HOW to achieve a number of specific objectives. They include

o  How to discover an ideal in one of five fields of fundamental human values (i.e. eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride, and impacting society)
o  How to build your company’s culture around its ideal
o  How to communicate that ideal effectively to engage employees, customers, and everyone else involved
o  How to deliver a near-ideal customer experience
o  How to evaluate your progress and your people against your ideal
o  How to drive the performance of the highest growth businesses with brand ideals
o  How to center the brand ideals of the highest growth businesses in one of the five fields of fundamental human values (e.g. eliciting joy)
o  How to develop leaders and managers to be business artists whose primary medium is brand ideals
o  How to position business artists to run the highest growth businesses

Other portions of the book that caught my eye include advice from three mini-case studies (i.e. Pizza Hut, Jack Daniel’s, and Crisco, Pages 111-113),  “The Ten Culture Builders” (Pages 159-165), advice on how to begin the process to become an ideals-based, ideals-driven, growth inspiring communicator (Pages 227-228), and four principles for measuring a grand ideal to drive sustained growth (Pages 257-273) For those who are curious, the Appendix consists of “The Stengel 50 and Their Brand Ideals.”

Jim Stengel is convinced, and I agree, that “maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible. They’re inseparable.” Those who question that are asked to consider the fact that most of the companies annually ranked among the most highly-regarded and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable and having the largest cap value in their respective industries. That’s no coincidence.

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