Jan Zijderveld is an experienced global executive, with a 30-year international career at Unilever, living in multiple countries and leading different businesses across the world. In 2018, Jan became the CEO of Avon—the iconic, purpose-driven beauty business—to create a new chapter for the organization. Jan believes in growing brands and businesses by connecting with consumers and citizens and bringing a company’s purpose to life. He also believes that organizations must put purpose first as they pioneer new ways of doing well by doing good.
We talked with Jan about how organizations should be thinking about their purpose (which may include but isn’t just about sustainability), technology transformation, connecting with consumers and how organizational culture can help them be successful.
Why do organizations need to think more than ever about their purpose?
It has never been easy to lead an organization, but we now have big challenges facing us: increased complexity in the operating environment, volatility, uncertainty in markets, rising consumer expectations, rapid technological change, and the global climate threat—to name a few. Leaders can no longer focus only on hitting quarterly targets but must have multiple leadership skills in their toolbox if they want to be successful in the long term. One of these tools is a single-minded clarity about why the organization exists—what its purpose is beyond just existing and making money. In other words, why do you exist and how do you go about getting things done.
How can leaders identify passing fads versus trends that are here to stay? What current trends to you think are longer-term in nature?
This is challenging for any leader. It’s about being very thoughtful about your portfolio, and actively, intentionally managing it, and avoiding complacency. It’s also being obsessive about serving consumers better than anyone else. At the same time, leaders must be aware and open to shifts that are occurring around them.
What role does digital transformation play in future-proofing your business?
Digital transformation is the great accelerator and needs to be integrated into all aspects of the business systems and operations. But figuring out how to bring digital technologies is not easy. Selecting which technologies are best for your organization can feel a bit like a child walking into a toy store wanting everything in sight. However, the focus should be on internal improvements—how to run finance, supply chain, procurement and HR—to create a backbone of excellence. This may require taking the old value chain apart and putting it back together in new ways. And an analytics insight engine will be critical for leveraging data to optimize efficiency in the full value chain.
How important is organization culture in the digital organization?
Organization culture is the glue that holds purpose, values and people together. Creating a vibrant, healthy work environment—based on the organization’s core purpose and values—becomes even more important when managing remote teams, during turnarounds and when facing unprecedented changes. In addition to knowing the purpose of the organization, the culture needs to be passion-filled with a love of the brand and product and providing the best solutions for consumers. Implementing new technology platforms and tools alone will need to be accompanied by a clear plan for integrating the technology and people.