July 15, 2010
I am in the middle of my book research and writing, preparing for the fall 2011 launch of Grow: How the World’s Best Businesses Use the Power of Ideals to Outshine the Competition. As part of that research, I am visiting a handful of companies that rank highly in the study I designed with Millward Brown Optimor and the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The study has a 10-year scope, and highlights businesses that have grown their image with their consumer as well as their financial results. The brands that made the top of this list grow about two and a half times faster than competition.
One of these companies is method, in San Francisco, California. Many of you are likely aware of method, and their story is nicely told on their website www.methodhome.com/. I have visited them before, and I visited on July 12 to go much deeper with many of their leaders about what makes them special and successful.
Here’s a sample of some of the leaders I interviewed, and their quirky and wonderful titles:Eric Ryan – Party Starter (Co-founder & Chief Brand Architect) Andrea Freedman – Chief Financial Person Against Dirty (CFO) Drew Fraser – Head Coach (CEO) George Shumny – Chief of Retail Health (VP, Sales) Josh Handy – Disruptor (Sr. Director, Design) Matthew Loyd – Brand Poobah (VP, Brand Experience) Michele Hall – The Laundress (General Manger, Fabric Care)
While I learned a tremendous amount on July 12, I wanted to share a few top line lessons we could all benefit from.
It’s all about the people behind the brand. So many companies say this; the way method brings this to life is simply amazing. They urge everyone to “bring yourself to work,” so that each person’s individual personality can make the brand better. But the most powerful story about how they focus on their people is the story of their recruiting process.
In all of my experience, and I have known companies who are terrific recruiters, this company sets a new standard. Everyone who is interviewed as a new employee receives up to 12 interviews from people all across the company, not just in the department in which they are applying. If the person makes it through the first round of interviews, they are given a homework assignment and asked to come back the next week.
The homework assignment is typically how the recruit would address some of their business challenges, and what they would do to continue to keep the culture “weird.” As they make a decision on a candidate, about 50% of the review is based on their experience, and the other 50% on whether or not the candidate is a cultural fit, and how they handled the homework assignment. The percentage of time their senior team spends on recruiting is staggering.
And they make very few mistakes in who they bring into the culture. They realize one bad hire is toxic.
I was also very inspired by the level of passion and energy with each person I met. And it was authentic; it wasn’t “spin” for my visit. Most of the people came from other companies, many large CPG companies. They came for the mission, and how this company treats their customers, consumers and employees. They feel free to bring their best ideas, and their best ideas are welcome. They truly are on a mission — to inspire the revolution for healthier, happier homes.
Never be complacent about your business mission, your “brand ideal” as I call it. This company has been mission-based since its founding nine years ago, but they continue to push it and ensure everyone in the company understands it, and is operating against that mission in their daily work. After my day of interviews, we went out for drinks and dinner, and the major topic of conversation was: “Is our mission well articulated, well understood, well deployed, well activated?”
Only do what competition can’t or won’t do. This brand is all about differentiation, in a category that previously had very few highly differentiated brands. They differentiate on mission, design, fragrance, sustainability, and efficacy. And, they get that balance right for their end consumers. Much like Steve Jobs at Apple does not go into a category he cannot disrupt, this brand never does anything competition has done, or likely will do.
Win with a compelling story for your retail customer. method sells to retailers, as many businesses do. I had the pleasure of talking with their Chief of Retail Health, George Shumny, and he did a role-play with me, where I was the customer and he was the sales person. His story hit everything a customer looks for — differentiation, image enhancement, margin growth, and collaboration. And, importantly, this brand is not for every retailer, and they don’t duck that. They don’t want to be everywhere.
CFO as chief storyteller. There are few CFOs who see their role as chief storyteller, but Andrea Freedman, Chief Financial Person Against Dirty, sees her role very much as keeping everything in perspective and keeping everyone’s eyes on the “horizon.” Their business is like most, it has its ups and downs. Andrea sees herself as the person who keeps telling the story about what this brand is, what success is, and how they are making progress against it in the short, medium, and long-term.
Always be looking to learn outside your category. When I arrived at method, I walked into their lobby and there was a “class” going on. The teacher was Dan Germain, head creative at innocent, a UK based company that is another fantastic story in brand ideal, mission, and outstanding performance. Dan was in the middle of teaching a writing class to several method employees, and this was the culmination of a week he had spent at method, learning from them and sharing his experience to help them be better. And by the way, innocent is another business that I will be profiling in my book, Grow.
Finally, many thanks to Eric Ryan, Adam Lowry, and the entire method team for their inspiration, hospitality, and budding friendship.