The Good Life – the focus of SB’18 Vancouver – is a familiar topic for me because it’s quite like the vison my great, great grandfather had for Kohler when he started the company nearly 150 years ago.
John Michael Kohler believed strongly in blending business with philanthropy, and was a strong civic leader and avid supporter of the arts. His ideals carried on and in the early 1970’s Kohler set forth a mission that every product made and service offered had to encompass good taste, generosity of spirit, self-fulfillment and the enhancement of nature. Furthermore, at the core of this mission – called Gracious Living – was the belief that the associates who made Kohler products and services must be as engaged in – and benefit from – their mission … because Kohler associates were customers, too.
While our mission hasn’t changed, our associates and customers’ expectations certainly have.
As Sustainable Brands’ own 2017 survey revealed, people today are less focused on status, money and personal achievement and more inclined to value a simpler, more balanced life. A life filled with meaningful connections – to other people, communities and the environment.
We also know that people are increasingly aware of the impact their actions and purchases may have on the things they value most. Accordingly, companies and brands must understand and embrace this evolving mindset, incorporating people’s desires and expectations into their products and services, as well as branding and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
The research shows that people want brands to help them achieve this (new) Good Life, and 80 percent claim they are loyal to those who do. But there’s a disconnect – few can name brands that are helping them on this journey.
Clearly, brands are not effectively connecting the dots for consumers, and I firmly believe that one of the reasons why is that many brands are not engaging the best ambassadors they have … their employees.
Who better to promote and sustain the corporate mission than those most involved in the company, its performance and its values? At Kohler, we have 35,000 employees worldwide who make it possible for our company to grow and our global family of brands to help enhance people’s sense of gracious living.
But we wondered: With the world around us changing so rapidly, what do they think “gracious living” means today, to themselves, the company and our customers?
We sought to find out.
In March, we surveyed our employees – in the U.S., India and China to better understand what societal issues Kohler employees care about and find inspiring. And, which ones they believe Kohler can positively impact.
We were pleased to learn that most employees are proud of the work Kohler is doing to help the world be a better place for everyone. Even more importantly, we reaffirmed that our associates are able to see clear and tangible links between the work we are doing in the areas of clean water, sanitation and disaster relief and the products they have a hand in manufacturing. And, most notably, they believe that Kohler – and by extension their role at Kohler – can have a positive impact on their lives, communities and the world.
But we know that product sustainability and innovation require more than will and desire. Expertise must be part of the equation, too, so we have invested in the right resources – people, software, equipment and processes – to turn well-intentioned ideas into tangible and sustainable outcomes. Establishing our own sustainability competence is essential to creating better outcomes for people, planet and our business.
This focus has enabled us to develop Innovation for Good, an employee-initiated think tank that develops solutions to real-world problems; Kohler Waste Lab, which explores how waste from manufacturing can be used as an ingredient in new products; and other initiatives that marry business and purpose – for the greater good.
In keeping with the tradition my great, great grandfather started at Kohler 145 years ago, we will continue to use our employees’ vision of ‘gracious living’ to help guide our social and philanthropic efforts, better integrate our business and sustainability practices and find more ways for our employees to become involved, seeing as they are the true ambassadors of Kohler and our mission.
This will also be the topic of the panel I will participate on during SB ’18 Vancouver: Harmonizing the Inside and Outside Messages: Turning Employees into Effective Ambassadors for Your Good Life Brand. I hope you will join us for a lively discussion on this and other topics. You may click here to register!
By: Laura Kohler,
SVP, Human Resources, Stewardship and Sustainability,
June 4, 2018