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Make Your Mark

The most urgent and complicated question we could ever ask ourselves is, Who am I? And there is no better time than now, with the outside world quieter than ever, to tune into the inside world – your hopes, dreams, values and life direction.  Sibon Schouten, founder of Markd Global, calls this the “zero moment of truth” where your highest order value comes into sharp relief and you see your life and your future in the context of your purpose. Markd Global aims to answer this defining question whether you have a personal, product or company brand. They believe that personal and company brands acting on purpose will not only create value but change culture for good. Their purpose is to ensure each and every brand or individual they work with is a more relevant and meaningful mark in the world. Naomi Tosic sat down with Sibon Schouten to discover more about the centrality of purpose in a life of significance.

NT: Sibon, what is your purpose?

SS: My purpose is a full-circle story. It is to help leaders and companies find purpose to make their mark on the world.

NT: How did you get to this moment where you knew you wanted to help others find, articulate and live out their personal purpose?

SS: I knew I wanted to help others find purpose based on my halftime story. I was mid-life and mid-career, experiencing what I have come to understand is the paradox of success.  I had achieved more than I’d ever hoped as a village girl born into the most unfavourable circumstances in apartheid South Africa. I was living in Sydney with the family I had always wanted and a career that had exceeded my expectations. Outwardly everything looked great but inwardly I was feeling the dissatisfaction of a life built on the pursuit of my own success. I chose to take a pause in the road and ask myself three fundamental questions: Who am I? Why am I here? And what does the next half look like? If you are brave enough to ask yourself these kinds of questions, it will take you down a path to purpose.  It took me a year to answer these questions through a study of everything I knew about leadership, brand-building, and storytelling. Interestingly, when I spoke to people (particularly at halftime), I found I was not alone in my search for an existence beyond my own success. I didn’t want people to take months and years to answer these urgent questions so, I developed an approach that would fast-track the experience to 90 days.

NT: Markd Global works with some very high-flying CEO’s and executives.  What is the importance (and benefit) of having a rock-solid purpose as a professional?

SS: Around the world, the business environment is in a permanent state of disruption as trust in institutions continues to decline. Today, more than ever, leaders are looking for a new genetic code to help them and the companies they lead to not only survive but thrive. According to a landmark study on the Business Case for Purpose conducted by the Harvard Business Review, it all comes down to one word – purpose. The results of this study highlight how purpose helps leaders and companies grow, innovate and transform. Through that process, they are able to rebuild the much-needed trust that is lacking across our institutional landscape. We’ve seen the benefits of working with leaders on purpose first-hand at Markd Global. Some leaders go on to express a more authentic style of leadership in the companies they lead, giving their work more meaning. Others end up supporting causes that are important to them in community leadership or board roles. Some leaders have the courage to start new businesses and others have been inspired to enhance their current business offering based on purpose. While every leader’s experience is unique, the one thing that is common is the value of purpose in providing leaders with a necessary anchor to thrive in a more dynamic world. 

NT: One of your personal heroes is Nelson Mandela and you were lucky to once be in the same room as him. What is the power of someone who knows their purpose?

SS: Nelson Mandela is a personal hero of mine, even more so because his life has had such a big influence on my personal story. He comes from the same tribe as my mother and even attended the same high school as her, but decades before. He grew up in a village close to where I spent the first eight years of my life. Nelson’s purpose is based on a higher-order value of freedom, which he found while confined to a 6m cell for most of his 27-year imprisonment. He was given many opportunities to be released from prison but his pursuit of freedom was never just for himself or black people… it was to free all the people of South Africa. He never compromised on that goal. When we pursue a life of purpose, doubt will often come knocking at our door. With me it comes in the form of a voice that says, what can a poor village girl achieve? I respond back and say, she can do what a poor village boy did. She can change the world one leader at a time. Nelson’s purpose of freedom continues to inspire the fulfillment of my purpose today.

NT: You have more than 20-years’ experience working for some of the world’s largest multinationals such as Nestle and Unilever. How does a brand cultivate a central purpose when it is made up of so many individuals (and brand categories) with sometimes competing purposes?

SS: This is a really good question and one most organisations are challenged by. According to the Harvard Business Review, 80% of executives agree that a shared sense of purpose can help companies meet new challenges and transform their organisations. However less than half of organisations surveyed said their company had articulated a strong sense of purpose and used it as a way to make decisions and strengthen motivation.  We believe the single biggest opportunity for any organisation is to turn purpose into performance. But few are doing it successfully. Even in my own experience of working for multinational companies in multi-brand categories, this was a huge challenge. However, there were pockets of success, which has informed the creation of Markd Global. We’ve developed a model and approach to unlock purpose at an individual and company level. The foundations of the model are based on:

  1. Purpose-driven leadership. Without leaders talking and living on purpose at the most senior levels of an organisation it’s near impossible for purpose to be part of a company’s culture. A leader doesn’t have to have the same purpose as the organisation they lead, but there needs to be a strong values alignment. 
  2. Clear articulation of purpose. Purpose should be expressed as a statement that can be easily recalled and remembered. It should have in-built humanity, be led by an active verb, and hang on a higher-order value.
  3. Identification of 5 core values. Values are uncompromising to both people and companies. They should be unique, ownable and memorable and used consistently to recruit, reward, recognise and manage performance. We’ve found six to be too many and four not to be enough.
  4. Impact on products and services. Staying true to purpose should influence what brands, products and services are created and communicated to what customers, in what formats, and into what markets. A company’s purpose can cascade down to product categories when a clear relationship between both is articulated. 
  5. Measuring performance.  Whether it is at an individual or company level, you should measure what you want more of. Measures should be made up of hard and soft metrics that are key drivers of performance, innovation, trust, culture and engagement.

This is not easy an exercise to achieve but it’s not impossible either. Markd Global starts with senior leaders and with some of them, we are working within their companies to turn purpose to performance using these 5 principles.

NT: I’ve had the privilege of participating in your personal branding workshops.  You exhibit exceptional discernment in guiding people to their ‘highest order value’. Is it part instinct, part rigorous process?

SS: I’ve been a seeker of purpose for my entire life and brand building for most of my career. Identifying values and a higher-order value are at the core of building powerhouse brands. There is a science to it, absolutely. However, there is an intuition that comes from being a seeker of purpose. I use a mixture of both when working with leaders and companies.

NT: Now is a unique time for us to stop and re-evaluate what drives us and to plan a clear path post COVID.  What is the starting point for unpacking personal purpose?

SS: COVID-19 is a huge disruption to our lives but it also gives us an incredible opportunity to set a new normal. Without stopping to reframe we’ll revert back to our comfort zone.  Unpacking personal purpose starts with leaders asking themselves the most urgent and complicated questions through a facilitated approach that keeps them accountable for at least 90 days: Who am I? What does all this mean to me? What does the next half look like?  It’s an opportunity to infuse your life with more purpose, guaranteeing it will be the most fulfilling life of all.

NT: We all want to make a mark on this world. What would the world look like if every company and individual put their best efforts into their inherent purpose?

SS: We believe every person is marked with purpose. Unfortunately we find ourselves living in a world that’s in a whole of trouble from every perspective – politically, economically, socially and environmentally. The reduction in trust comes as a direct result of people living in fear of the future and their role within it. Every move of the human race has a leader with purpose behind it. Some moves are so small that we may never recognise the people behind them. Others are sizable as we’ve discussed, with people like Nelson Mandela. However, all are important. The solution to unmet needs, the source of new ideas, the answer to climate change, the coronavirus vaccine … all have a purposeful leader or leaders behind them. So if people and individuals put more effort into inheriting their purpose we would see a move forward of the human race.  That’s the ultimate power of purpose.   http://markdglobal.com.au/personal-branding/

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