Geoff McDonald, head of Bridge’s Purposeful Business Practice, spent his last 5 years of a 25 year career at Unilever working with Paul Polman  (CEO and prime architect of Unilever’s purpose and strategy) and Keith Weed (the Head of Marketing, Sustainability and Communications) leading the refining and embedding of  Unilever’s Purpose – Making Sustainable Living Commonplace – into the heart of the business.

Arguably Unilever is the first global, publicly listed company to take such a direct stance on how its future profitability and growth is intimately linked with delivering its higher order purpose, manifested in the sustainable living plan. In this context Geoff McDonald was at the center of Unilever delivering some extraordinary early results from a social, environmental and business performance perspective. Understanding what it takes to build a truly audacious purpose that totally integrates purpose and performance has helped Geoff appreciate just how disconnected most organisational purposes are from their core commercial strategies. Brands like Dove and Lifebouy have become remarkable movements for change, with a very specific role in driving the outcomes of the Sustainable Living Plan. Doing this whilst helping to grow the business in an ever more competitive landscape is where much of Unilever’s breakthrough thinking has taken root.

The challenge of building wider leadership advocacy beyond the architects of the purpose has been a fascinating and vital element of the journey and is another area that is generally either under invested in, or done in a way that creates intellectual buy-in rather than deep conviction and a preparedness to change how we think about what it means to run a truly purposeful business.

The heavy lifting of embedding purpose into all aspects of organizational life is the unglamorous but essential element of the change that takes time, planning and resilience. The need for some significant business process re engineering; the importance of enhanced governance structures to measure and monitor progress; and much more radical and balanced ways of developing leaders and measuring organisational performance all required new solutions that often flew in the face of contemporary wisdom.

The Unilever business is well on its way to this transformation and a number of measures show that this has been of benefit to Unilever. The share price has almost doubled since 2009, engagement scores are up from 55% to mid eighties and Unilever is now the third most in demand employer, behind Google and Apple globally (Linkedin 2014). A huge transformation with improved business performance in 4 years.

Geoff McDonald wanted to take this insight and experience and apply it to show organisations how they could be a powerful force for good, become amazing places to work that attract the very best people and deliver radical success.