As I researched leadership among pioneers and company founders such as Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, Seth Goldman of Honest Tea, Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation, Gary Hirshberg of Stoneyfield Farm, and others, a topic that came up frequently was that of legacy and succession. You see there comes a point with most entrepreneurs when they start envisioning the next big idea, long to explore other possibilities, or sense the company could benefit from new leadership to take it to the next level.
So the questions many of these leaders ponder take the form of, “Should I move on from the company?” or “Should I sell the company to a larger (perhaps less values-driven) corporation?” Furthermore, leaders that do consider moving on in one form or another then begin to wonder how the great company they have started can endure and fulfill its mission without him or her at the helm.
Of course as we have seen over time many of the great values-driven companies do transition in one way or another: Stoneyfield Farm sold to Danone, Honest Tea sold to Coca Cola, Seventh Generation brought in a new CEO from Pepsico, and The Body Shop sold to L’Oreal. These moves are always made with good intentions but there are always the lingering, aforementioned questions about whether the values-driven organization can continue to live its redefined business purpose. Some continue to lead in pioneering ways while others seem to lose some of their luster.
So what separates success from mediocrity? While there are many factors that contribute to organizations adapting successfully to changing leadership and/or M&A’s, certainly one of the biggest is the degree to which the company’s core values are woven into the social fabric of the organization. When employee’s live and breath “people, profit and planet” everyday without thinking about it you have a culture dedicated and committed to keeping the company on track. The best firms develop the next generation of leaders internally, again, ensuring that the founding principles and core values are always revered. In addition, successful organizations proactively measure and manage their organization culture (see the Organizational Values Inventory) to make sure shared values, beliefs and behaviors are indeed alive and well.
In the end legacy may be born in the dreams and aspirations of the founder but it lives and thrives in the hearts and minds of employees. If you want to be a values-driven leader and organization, work at it!