Create a culture of mission-driven innovation

Today, consumers increasingly value authenticity and reward brands rooted in social good. But what does fostering a mission-driven corporate culture mean? What are the potential benefits and pitfalls? The recent Fast Company Agenda 2022 event featured “Leading with Purpose,” a moderated conversation between Sanjiv Yajnik, President of Financial Services at Capital One, and Tom Cortese, Co-Founder and COO at Peloton. They discussed their organizations’ journey to create a mission-driven culture of innovation and the importance of innovating on behalf of customers. Here are four takeaways from their conversation.

1. You can’t pretend.

Authenticity is paramount. For a company to be truly mission-driven, that mission must be deeply embedded in its fabric. It should be what drives the company, from the products or services it offers to how it cares for its associates, customers and communities. “It’s not like you’re sitting in a room and thinking about what the goal should be based on the business,” Yajnik says. “It’s the opposite.” Indeed, prioritizing mission helps companies attract and build diverse teams that can rally around a goal, unlocking the promise embedded in that goal in unexpected and impactful ways. It can also serve as a crucial touchstone to inform business decisions, serving as a “north star” when assessing the value the business brings to the customer.

For Peloton’s Cortese, a company must be sincere in its mission, otherwise people will see through. “Customers know what brings them value, and they know what doesn’t,” he says. “You cannot, and you should not, deceive a customer.”

2. It’s about long-term customer relationships.

Because mission-driven companies seek more than short-term gains, they must think beyond the initial transaction with the customer. As Yajnik shared, from its inception, Capital One recognized that the tools for success can be very different depending on a client’s unique circumstances. As he puts it, “changing the banking industry” means more than just creating reliable products, although of course it’s important to understand that too. It’s about using new technologies, information and analytics in innovative ways to make banking services easier and more accessible to more people and businesses, and answering the question: “If we created a product for our family member, how would we [do] this?”

Peloton’s mission is to help people build healthy habits and make working out easier. It’s not enough to sell exercise equipment to customers, and the company’s subscription-based business model reflects that. “After this first transaction, we must continue to show value. We need to maintain a long-term relationship,” Cortese says.

Peloton achieves this by continuing to innovate and adapt. The company is expanding and refining its offerings to give subscribers new reasons to log into their app and ultimately new reasons to work out. “Fitness has often been a matter of willpower,” Cortese says. “If we could make fitness something you enjoy, something fun, we’re creating value for the consumer. It’s something they really wanted.

3. Be data-informed, not just data-driven.

Because data fuels innovation, it matters to mission-driven companies. But data requires human judgment to make it a useful tool. Without a fundamental commitment to putting people first and serving all customers, warns Yajnik, just tracking data “may not be the best thing for customers.”

Cortese echoes this point. “We are using [data] to inform our decisions, not necessarily to guide them,” he says. “We are a team of people with a lot of knowledge and intuition, and we are emotionally connected to our members. When you couple that with data, that’s when we get the big innovations we’re looking for.

4. Motivated employees lead to satisfied customers.

Both Capital One and Peloton use Net Promoter Scores (NPS), which measure the likelihood that customers will recommend products or services to others, to measure customer loyalty. But they also pay attention to how their employees feel. (Peloton even looks at a metric called employee NPS, or eNPS.) “We believe customers will never be fully engaged and happy if our associates aren’t fully engaged and happy,” Yajnik says. “So we’re actually measuring both simultaneously.”

Because a mission is not transactional, mission-driven businesses cannot operate solely for their own benefit. They are fueled by enthusiasm for the mission itself. If employees are inspired, they are more likely to embody the mission in their work and in their interactions with customers. And if your data tells you that your customers are dissatisfied, the problem could be unmotivated employees. As Yajnik puts it, “Very rarely would you see that the customer is thrilled, but the associates are not.”

About Perry Perrie

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