How Companies Can Lead With Purpose During a Time of Change
Tom Wilson, CEO of Allstate, shares insights on being a purpose-driven company and how this can help a business manage and weather change.
Air Date: November 17, 2021
Moderator: Stephanie Mehta, Editor-in-Chief, Fast Company
Featured Guests: Thomas J. Wilson, Chairman, President and CEO, The Allstate Corporation
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Business Solves Corporate Citizenship Conference and Awards explores the evolving role of business in society, and how the private sector can bring innovative solutions to the forefront during challenging times.
In conversation with Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, Tom Wilson, president and CEO of Allstate, kicked off day one of the two-day conference and described how Allstate’s shared purpose guides the company, and how leading an organization with purpose can better prepare leaders to adapt and survive during times of uncertainty and change.
Allstate’s Shared Purpose Is the Company’s North Star
Allstate’s Shared Purpose, stated in full on the company’s website, serves as the company’s North Star according to Wilson.
“We try to make it aspirational and broad enough so that it can morph over time and we can adapt with our customers in the [changing] world,” he said. “Whenever you're in a tumultuous period of time, having a North Star is really helpful.”
Allstate’s purpose — to empower customers by protecting them so they can achieve their hopes and dreams — helped guide the company and employees through the early COVID-19 shutdowns and continues to make a path through the pandemic, added Wilson.
Leaders Must Identify the Role of the Business in Fulfilling Corporate Purpose
As more organizations consider their corporate purpose, leaders should also be identifying the role of the business in fulfilling it. This begins with thinking about why your company exists, beyond taking care of your customers and making a profit.
“Improving society and creating opportunity for your team members are two other really important parts of organizations and businesses, and I think that's why we exist,” said Wilson.
Wilson noted that if business leaders ask most of their employees, “Why do we exist?” many of them will say it's to help customers, and others will cite that their job is helping their life. Either way, he said, it’s important to listen and respond accordingly.
“If that's what your stakeholders are telling you, I expect you to help do that,” he said. “What people are saying today is, ‘Look, we got problems in society [and] we need somebody to fix them.’ So they’re looking to whoever they can and they know business can help.”
Individual Purpose Can Build A Stronger Organization
For Allstate, evolving the company’s shared purpose was a team effort across the entire organization.
“It's a team effort, and I don't just mean me and the senior leadership team,” said Wilson. “You want to be listening to your organization [and] saying, ‘Does this purpose work for [everyone]?’”
But the shared company purpose is only one part of the equation: It’s also important for organizations to help employees find their own personal purpose — something that Allstate prioritizes for its workforce.
“We don't link it to our company purpose,” Wilson explained. “ We don't like making [people] go through a process and say, ‘Come back and tell us why your purpose is in line [with ours].’ The logic is, you give to get. So if we give you the opportunity to figure out what your personal purpose is, you'll find a way to embed what our purpose is as a company in your personal purpose.”
“We have found that not only does [personal purpose] help people value what Allstate does and help them have a better life, but it also built a stronger organization,” he added.