Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman – Unilever’s Paul Polman: How redefining boundaries drives performance Podcast Summary

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Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman – Unilever’s Paul Polman: How redefining boundaries drives performance

When Paul Polman joined Unilever as CEO in 2009, the consumer goods company had stagnated with years of lackluster performance. His famous turnaround of the company centered around his ability to redraw the boundaries of Unilever’s mission to emphasize sustainability and long-term growth.

Leadership boundaries

Leaders should redefine boundaries to create a refreshed sense of purpose, inspiring a new perspective that energizes people to reach their goals.

Redrawing boundaries can spark new ideas, increase ambition, and revitalize teamwork. It’s important to revisit and redefine boundaries as we evolve, whether through small changes or a complete overhaul of our goals and mission.

Expanding leadership boundaries can positively impact team engagement, company success, and the wider community. Embracing wider roles can serve as embedded executive training for future leaders and present opportunities for growth. Quick-thinking skills can save lives in dangerous situations.

Seeking a fresh perspective

When selecting a new leader, prioritize their ability to navigate new markets and embrace diversity. Don’t limit your search to internal candidates; instead, consider external hires who can bring fresh perspectives and approaches.

During a crisis, companies may hesitate to take risks and lose their commitment to diversity. However, seeking fresh perspectives from external sources can help revitalize struggling companies by reframing company boundaries and promoting social welfare and profits.

You cannot change people’s behaviors if you only work on the purpose and don’t change the boundaries around it that drive people’s behavior.

Team Purpose

  • Setting boundaries can enhance team purpose but may result in exclusion. Maintain company purpose while integrating sustainability into identity and compensation to achieve long-term success.
  • By emphasizing ownership, trust, cultural change, defining success beyond quarters, and setting a strong purpose, the CEO can ensure lasting success. Trust is key.
  • Purpose-driven brands grow faster and are more profitable. CEOs should take responsibility for their impact on the world by having a strong sense of purpose and values. By redrawing traditional boundaries, companies can positively impact society as a whole.

Redrawing boundaries

Redrawing boundaries can lead to new possibilities and a refreshed sense of purpose, driving you towards your goals. While boundaries can be limits, they can also define who we are and where we want to go. As we grow and change, we should be prepared to redraw these boundaries.

Redrawing boundaries can reinvigorate your team with a new sense of purpose, leading to a renaissance in idea creation, ambition, and ultimately scale.

Why bringing in an outsider can help promote diversity and guide companies to success

During times of crisis, companies often revert to their comfort zones and fail to promote diversity. This was evident on Wall Street after the financial crisis, where diversity went backwards due to the fear of taking risks.

However, bringing in an outsider with fresh perspectives and an unbound sense of purpose can help break through resistance and reframe company boundaries. 

The power of purpose-driven brands

By getting CEOs together, they become more courageous and set bolder targets, which helps bring together civil society and governments who also want to work towards aligned objectives.

CEOs should take responsibility for their total impact on the world and have a strong sense of purpose and values. Redrawing traditional boundaries can help companies focus on their responsibilities, achieve their goals, and positively impact society as a whole.

The more you can create a culture where people feel they have ownership, where they feel they have trust, where they feel they can make a difference, the more you get out of them.

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