“We are not a company with a mission,” said one impact-minded CEO at last month’s MO CEO Summit in Portland, Oregon. “We are a mission with a company.”
That pithy proclamation came from the chief executive of a consumer food company – one which has, increasingly, become a household name – as she described the experience of leading a business that is committed to both profit and purpose in a time when capital is pouring into the impact market. Investments in her company have created tremendous new opportunities for growth, scale, and even greater impact, she said. But scale and growth have also brought new challenges.
Variations of that theme were common at the Summit, which was presented by Big Path Capital in partnership with BackBay Communications. Nearly all CEOs in attendance had been recently named to the 2022 MO100 Impact Ranking – a list that highlights the leaders of momentum-fueled companies, based on the companies’ revenue, growth, and impact. As such, the opportunities and the challenges described by the food company CEO were not unique.
Ultimately, many of the MO Summit CEOs were asking versions of the same questions: How do leaders stay true to mission and impact as the market heats up? And just as importantly, how do they best communicate that mission and impact to the stakeholders for whom it really matters?
There are no one-size-fits-all answers for these big questions, but over the Summit’s two-day run, some useful approaches became clear.
- The impact must be real. As the “impact” moniker is used more broadly, successful impact leaders know that they can only claim what they’re actually doing. Customers and staff increasingly see through hollow claims of impact that are not grounded in reality, recognizing it as empty marketing. For most leaders at the Summit, this is the easy part: many had the urge to generate positive impact before they even had a business plan! For other CEOs who wish to follow their lead, intentional impact is foundational.
- Impact culture is built from the inside out. Staying true to impact and mission begins with a company’s team. One impact CEO said her company sees financial metrics as the lagging indicator of success; the growth and development of her team, she said, is the leading indicator. Impact-minded leaders should find ways to communicate their own personal development and growth, as they push for similar progress among those with whom they work.
- Staying still is not an option. For businesses, like individuals, nothing stays the same. We are either growing, said one impact CEO, or we are shrinking. A mindset that embraces the constancy of change allows leaders to hold on to what is most important and to let go of what is not. Such a mindset can be essential when the market around your company is changing quickly.
- Authenticity matters. Authenticity was one of the primary themes of the Summit, offering a lesson for impact communications and for impact leadership, more generally. If you’re going to be talking about your business’ impact, you need to be telling your audience the truth – whether that audience is your customers, your staff, your community, or your investors. Authenticity matters.