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Method Cofounder Eric Ryan, on Building a Business With a Social Mission

How do you instill a higher purpose in a modern corporation?

[This is a guest post by Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method, the sustainable cleaning products company which isn't to be confused with Method, the branding agency and frequent Co.Design contributor. ? Ed.]

After ten years in business and hundreds of innovations, we can still confidently say that our proudest achievement at method remains our first: launching a company with a social mission to do good in the world. It was the right thing to do for society and the planet, and we've proven that it's the right thing to do for the bottom line too. The rapid expansion of media transparency is producing increasingly well-informed and discriminating consumers. Similarly, the influx of socially and environmentally conscious Gen Yers into the workforce is redefining the war for talent. These two shifts challenge most established businesses — but they're also significant competitive advantages to mission-driven companies.

Finding meaning in work is central to a strong corporate culture.

Having a purpose larger than profits has been key to our success. By contrast, most corporate values are just that—the values of the corporation. No matter how much ambition, camaraderie, and loyalty an employee brings to work, no one is taking those corporate values home to share with friends and family. But those same values become immeasurably more meaningful when they're tied to a higher purpose.

It's human nature to want to be a part of something bigger than oneself. But we're still amazed at how many cover letters we get that open with lines like, "My goal is to work for a values- and mission-driven business." But working with purpose and values isn't just a matter of individual growth; finding meaning in work is central to a strong corporate culture.

It's also what keeps people motivated despite the rigors of a start-up environment. Working for the common good helps us put ego aside and work collaboratively as a team, and that sense of continuity, familiarity, and trust spills over into every discipline in the company. Within a start-up, resources are scarce and growth requires every team member to punch above their weight by doing the job of three people. (Okay, maybe four.) Financial motivation can only sustain people for so long (we can all sprint for a little while) and we have seen people quickly burn out if their personal values and motivations are not well aligned with ours.

We want you to come to work as your true self.

Building a shared social mission requires a different leadership style, and staying true to our mission takes constant work and reinforcement. One of the ways we do this is by starting every week with a Monday 9am all company huddle where we read an advocate letter to reinforce who we work for (our customers) and how we are contributing to society. Our two major off-sites a year dedicate a large percentage of time to reflecting on our missions and values. But there is no substitute for walking the walk everyday — that's what makes a mission contagious. Just recently my co-founder, Adam Lowry lead a team of people to collect sea plastic litter to be recycled into our products while I was in Detroit looking at how the urban art movement could be supported by our upcoming Design Series product.

Most importantly, creating a culture around a shared purpose means getting the right people to join who truly share your passion and mission. This can't be faked. At method we do this with a fairly extensive interview process that ends with our "homework assignment?. Its essentially a live audition that allows us to test the chemistry of a prospective hire. The last question is always the same: How will you help keep method weird" At most companies you arrive to work every morning as your 'professional' self and leave your "personal" self at home. But at method we want you to come to work as your true self.

[Top image by Zach Dischner]

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  • Mick Ukleja

    Millennials don't fall into the Boomer thinking of "success to significance." In other words, be successful and make a lot of money, then in the second half of life you can give back (significance). They want both now. Eric Ryan and Method are a great example of that. Thanks.

  • peggy emslie

    Forty years ago I went into the environmental field with the goal of helping the planet. It's been a long, uphill battle to do the right thing with minimal pay, and yes, sadly, too few enlightened leaders. Through monitoring ecosystems, developing and implementing environmental regulations, many in my generation have set the stage for the sustainability movement. Congratulations to Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry. I love what you're doing! But, we are all weird and all need to be thanked.

    I am a graduate student in the Johns Hopkins University Advanced Studies Program. I am writing a paper on Method for my final class towards the degree. The class is, “Strategic Management for Sustainability”.

  • Tom Frank

    Hello Mike,
    I, too, like the idea of living your life according to principles, and earning what you need while doing that. When I was twenty-five years of age, my wife and I decided to focus our attention to help solve one of the most difficult problems of our world. We took care of two children, who were born to people who could not do so, along with our two and eventually, three "biologically born" children. And while participating in the adventure of learning-teaching that is the essence of development in children and adults, I also worked full-time to improve the livability of our town.
    It is common, on the path of life, to identify one's self with this particular group, or that, or several. I've found the most joy in life while identifying myself as simply "me" as an integral part of "everyone's world."
    Tom Frank