The Power of Purpose

Greetings. In the last few years, I have become enamored with Lush Cosmetics—a British company that sells intriguingly fragrant soap that looks like cheese. Not only have I become a reliable customer for their “fresh and handmade” personal care products, but I also bring groups of business leaders to visit their stores here in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and even Kuala Lumpur. Visits intended to give leaders from a wide range of industries a sense of what it takes to create a business that is loved and respected by almost all of its employees and customers. Granted, many of its customers are relying on their parents to buy their soaps, lotions, perfumes, shampoos, bath bombs, and other products but that’s a different story. What interests me most is the “power of purpose” in this global company that is widely regarded as being innovative, caring, collaborative, customer-centric, socially and environmentally responsible, and successful.

Let’s face it, having a clear and compelling sense of purpose is vital to business success—especially today. Yet too many companies fail or neglect to make clear why they really matter, the core purpose they are trying to achieve, and the role that the folks who work there and the folks who buy from them play in making important things happen. At Lush, they wear their purpose on the walls of their stores and even in the ink that adorns some of their employees. It is a purpose that is all about products that are natural, good for you, not tested on animals, and good for the planet. All made by real people whose pictures and names appear on every package, unless a product comes without a package as a way to reduce the use of unnecessary material that is likely to end up in landfills. And purchased by customers who care about the products they buy and use. It is also a purpose that inspires the company  to invest a significant amount of its proceeds to support nonprofit organizations around the world that are working to improve the lives of children and low-income communities, and the welfare of animals—organizations recommended by employees.

All of which begs the questions:

“What is your purpose as a company, organization, or individual?”

“Is your purpose something that inspires all of your employees, customers, and stakeholders to be passionate and knowledgeable advocates for your brand?” and

“What value do you really provide?”

If your purpose is not as clear or compelling as it could be, you might want to take a field trip to your nearest Lush shop where the colors are intense, the fragrances are strong, everything can be sampled, customers are loyal, employees are engaged, turnover is low, the sense of purpose is everywhere, and the soap looks good enough to taste.

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Employees and Customers

Greetings. Many of you know that I’m a big fan of the Container Store, a company that has built a remarkable business and a powerful brand by helping all of us to be better organized. It’s a company with thoughtful and energized employees, attractive stores, and a wide range of products all intended to enable us to get our “stuff” under control. They even have simple and user-friendly storage design tools that take the guesswork out of planning. And also being a big fan of the late comedian George Carlin, who was a passionate and humorous commentator on the notion that all of us in America have way too much stuff, I am continually amused (and even frustrated) by the role that stuff plays in our lives.

But I’m also impressed with how passionate the employees of the Container Store are about their mission and how much the company seems to love and value its employees. In fact, it places employees first in all of its decisions and actions…believing that happy, engaged, and empowered employees are the best way to make customers happy. And this approach raises an important issue…

Who should come first in all of our businesses…customers or employees?

For a while, the popular notion was that organizations placing customers first were more likely to be successful. After all, customers are our raison d’etre. But companies like the Container Store, which win high marks for being great places to work, are making a powerful case that hiring, supporting, and inspiring the right employees is the best way to deliver a great customer experience. And it seems to make a lot of sense, because all too often businesses claim to care about customers but treat their own employees with so little regard that even the most customer-centric ones are challenged to keep doing the right thing continually.

In an era when the average tenure of a new hire is less than a year according to Fast Company magazine the experience of the Container Store, and other businesses like it, should challenge all of us to make sure that we are finding and nurturing the very best team members as the best way to ensure that we are building the very best customer relationships.


We win in business and in life when we hold our own people in the highest regard. And when we give them the encouragement and tools to bring real magic and even a bit of organization to the customers we have the privilege to serve.