Grow by Jim Stengel, review by Matthew E. May

“Maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible,” begins Jim Stengel, in his new book Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies. “They’re inseparable.”

Stengel should know. Not only was he Proctor & Gamble’s global marketing officer for the better part of a decade (and got to spend $8 billion a year on advertising), he studied 50,000 brands over the course of the first ten years of this century and identified the “Stengel 50″–the top 50 businesses in the study that, had you invested in the collection, would have delivered a return on investment returned 400 percent better than the S&P 500 over the same timeframe.

Stengel’s key discovery was that phenomenal growth was linked to brand “ideals,” defined in part as a company’s highest reason for being. In other words, it’s noble purpose. “The counterintuitive fact,” writes Stengel, “is that doing the right thing in your business is doing the right thing for your business.”

The major findings from the Stengel study form the basis of Grow, the central lesson of which is that “a business leader’s greatest leverage lies in rallying employees and customers alike to an ideal of improving people’s lives.”

This, of course, is a recurring theme in scores of business books, yet for the most part a subordinate one. The difference here is that Stengel elevates business ideals to the singular key to growth, and argues that he has the data to back up his argument.

According to Stengel, today’s most effective business leaders do five things well:

  1. Discover a brand ideal of improving people’s lives in one of five fields of fundamental human values.
  2. Build their organizational culture around the brand ideal.
  3. Communicate the brand ideal to engage employees and customers.
  4. Deliver a near-ideal customer experience.
  5. Evaluate their progress and people against the brand ideal.

You might ask what those five fields of fundamental values might be. They are:

  • Eliciting Joy: Activating experiences of happiness, wonder, and limitless possibility.
  • Enabling Connection: Enhancing the ability of people to connect with one another and the world in meaningful ways.
  • Inspiring Exploration: Helping people explore new horizons and new experiences.
  • Evoking Pride: Giving people increased confidence, strength, security, and vitality.
  • Impacting Society: Affecting society broadly, including by challenging the status quo and redefining categories.

“The bottom line,” writes Stengel, “is that if your business or brand is not serving an ideal in one of these five fields of fundamental human values, you’re likely not positioned for significant growth.”

Stengel maintains that high growth leaders constantly ask a handful of powerful questions:

  • How well do we understand the people who are most important to our future?
  • What do we and our brand stand for?
  • What do we want to stand for?
  • How are we bringing the answers to these questions to life?

I happen to believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures, so one of the things I liked most about Grow was the visual metaphor Stengel uses: a tree, pictured here. It’s called the Ideal Tree.

Image courtesy of Grow (Crown Business, 2011)

Here’s Stengel on the tree:

“The organic quality of the Ideal Tree goes beyond metaphor. It implicitly identifies all the people who are important to the future of a business and their relationships. Its roots, trunk, branches, and leaves capture the dynamic flow of all the elements that must work in harmony for a business to flourish, both those that are internal to a business (and hence almost always invisible to customers) and those that are or become external, such as communication strategies, products, and services. Finally, the Ideal Tree graphically situates the business in a market ecosystem of customers, employees, and competitors.”

Read Grow. You’ll find yourself asking whether your business is growing in one of the five value areas. The answer could make a world of difference…and a difference to the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: