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    Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies by Ranjay Gulati

Learn More About Ranjay Gulati

Organizations have been repeatedly reminded over the last few years that economic and social instability can stunt growth. Even in times of recovery, companies may unintentionally hamper their progress in a rush to get to a “new normal.” In this unpredictable environment, how can organizations, and the people within, live up to their fullest potential?

Management expert and award-winning author Ranjay Gulati’s decades of in-depth research has revealed that preparation and purpose are the keys to success. A top-rated Harvard Business School (HBS) professor, as well as the former chair of the Advanced Management Program, Harvard’s flagship senior leader executive program, he closely studies how organizations — both old and young and spanning a variety of industries and geographies — create maximum impact in good times and bad. Bridging strategy, organizational design, purpose orientation and leadership, his frameworks for unlocking the hidden capabilities within individuals and organizations help employees feel more motivated, bring customers closer to brands and reshape interactions from transactional to relational.

The Transformative Power of Deep Purpose

A top-ten-cited economics and business scholar, Gulati has devoted his career to comprehending the enablers and barriers for organizational growth. His insightful research has identified some of the strategic and organizational factors that can both unlock and derail opportunities. In his recent work, he unpacks the concept of purpose. His research was sparked by a curiosity to understand how a few small and large companies can leverage purpose in fundamental ways to transform themselves and drive performance. He examines how most companies treat purpose as a superficial public relations exercise, while only a few go deep with it. This discovery led to a flurry of intense fieldwork that allowed Gulati to identify the specific levers deep purpose companies utilize to achieve superior financial and social performance. He catalogs the tremendous benefits that the pursuit of meaning confers on companies in his compelling book, “Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies” (Harper Business, 2022), which was named a Thinkers50 Top 10 Best New Management Book for 2022.

“Deep purpose leaders go beyond just a purpose statement to put their purpose to work by connecting it to all they do with their customers, employees, and communities at large,” explains Gulati, who is the former Head of the Organizational Behavior Unit at HBS. “Research has shown that when organizational purpose is real, you have inspired employees, committed customers, connected partners and a focused and aligned organization – all of which allows performance to skyrocket.”

A talented advisor and instructional course designer who is a seasoned and skillful educator, Gulati’s research on purpose shows how to leverage a hidden asset to build powerful and resilient high-growth organizations. This not only drives progress but offers a sense of identity, pride and responsibility for employees as the custodians of a legacy. By tying their past to the present and future, organizations develop cultures where employees and other stakeholders feel personally committed to the organization and its objectives.

“Leaders must function as both ‘plumbers’ and ‘poets,’” he explains. “Plumbers assess market conditions, set strategies and focus on outstanding execution. Poets inspire people around a shared purpose. If you lack a purpose, you must first find one, combing the depths of your heritage for inspiration.”

Resilient Organizations that Thrive in Good Times and Bad

According to Gulati’s research, just 9% of companies come out of economic downturns stronger than when they went into it. Observing that these resilient winners master the delicate balance between playing defense and offense, his recommendations for connecting, leading and activating teams can unleash growth even in down times. Engaging, energetic and relatable, Gulati draws from case studies on leaders ranging from Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, to Satya Nadella of Microsoft, to illustrate how organizations can draw out a higher level of performance and consistency from their employees. Called a “Swiss army knife” for his ability to relate to a broad range of business problems, Gulati’s gift of storytelling illuminates practical examples and narratives to inspire organizations in varied industries across the globe, including Google, Blackrock, Bristol Meyers Squibb, Lego and more.

As profitable growth becomes less certain for many businesses, it’s more important than ever for organizations to recognize the inertial forces holding them back, then eliminate their barriers to unlocking potential. Gulati’s strategies for finding the “soul” of an organization blaze a trail for leading meaningful change that drives growth for organizations and individuals. He is unique among scholars as someone who connects the “what” of business (vision, strategy, and tactics) with its “how” (organization design, culture, processes) and “why” (purpose).

“Many of us go through life without a clear idea about why we do what we do. When and if we find a higher purpose, we become much more focused and directed in our efforts,” Gulati concludes. “When a coach helps us align a personal sense of purpose with an organization’s reason for being, magic happens.”

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Ranjay Gulati is the Paul R. Lawrence MBA Class of 1942 Professor and the former Head of the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. Until recently, he chaired the Advanced Management Program, the flagship senior leader executive program, at the school. His work bridges strategy (establishing clear strategic pillars for growth), organizational design (reimagining purposeful and collaborative organizational systems) and leadership (fostering inspired, courageous and caring execution).

Professor Gulati was ranked as one of the top ten most cited scholars in economics and business for over a decade by ISI-Incite. The Economist, the Financial Times and the Economist Intelligence Unit have listed him among the top handful of business school scholars whose work is most relevant to management practice. His research has been published in leading academic journals of business, the Harvard Business Review and a range of other outlets. He is the author of several books, with his latest, “Deep Purpose” (Harper Business, February 2022), named to the list of Thinkers50 Top 10 Best New Management Books for 2022. He has also been a frequent guest on CNBC and other prominent media outlets.

Professor Gulati has served on the advisory boards of several entrepreneurial ventures and has appeared as an expert witness in business litigations. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, a master’s degree in Management from M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management and two Bachelor’s Degrees, in Computer Science and Economics, from Washington State University and St. Stephens College, New Delhi, respectively. 

Ranjay Gulati is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Ranjay Gulati was last modified: January 24th, 2023 by Justin Louis

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Deep Purpose: Serving Society While Achieving Economic Success

According to award-winning author and Harvard Business School Professor Ranjay Gulati, the pursuit of purpose can translate into superior financial and social performance, but that pursuit must go beyond a well-intentioned purpose statement to net real results. Through in-depth fieldwork assessing companies that truly embrace purpose as an organizing principle, he has identified four specific levers that allow leaders of deep purpose companies to achieve superior results. Drawing from his 2022 book “Deep Purpose,” Gulati uses colorful storytelling, inspiring case studies and relatable research analysis to break down why and how to form a corporate purpose that translates into growth. In interactive and practical presentations, Gulati showcases how the vast majority of businesses today can better employ purpose to serve society while also achieving economic success.

Unlocking Growth Potential with a Customer-Centric Approach

In turbulent markets, management expert and top-rated Harvard Business School Professor Ranjay Gulati has found that customer-centric organizations with an “outside-in” perspective are the most resilient. His research-backed recommendations reveal how companies can unlock growth potential, regardless of market conditions, by immersing themselves in the lives of their customers. “Most companies with an inside-out perspective become attached to what they produce and sell to their own organizations. In contrast, the outside-in perspective starts with the marketplace and delves deeply into the problems and questions customers are facing in their lives,” Gulati describes. “The goal is to bring value to customers in ways that are beneficial for them while also creating additional value for the company itself.” The author of “Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business,” Gulati presents a practical and authoritative guide to how companies can close the gap between awareness and action. He then draws a map for organizations to identify and break down internal barriers that impede results, build bridges across divisions and create collaborator networks within teams. By drawing out the customer-centric company’s journey, Gulati helps organizations jumpstart a cycle of profits, growth and competitive advantage.

Leading a Resilient Organization in Good Times and Bad

In 2010, renowned researcher and Harvard Business School Professor Ranjay Gulati looked at past recessions to find that 9% of the 4,700 companies studied didn’t simply recover in the three years after a slowdown — they flourished, outperforming competitors by at least 10% in sales and profit growth. What set these resilient companies apart, says Gulati, is their multipronged strategy that reduces costs and prevents derailment today while investing in a better tomorrow. As described in Gulati’s 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review “Roaring out of Recessions,” only a small fraction of firms turn adversity into opportunity. He expands on this in his book “Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business,” where he describes why a leader in a turnaround or transformation environment must be a strategist, architect, decision maker and change agent who plays to win, as opposed to playing not to lose. In this highly interactive presentation, Gulati invites participants to analyze potential opportunities in turnaround situations and decide if it’s reasonable to create value. By repositioning disruption as a positive, Gulati demonstrates how to revitalize an organization, turning it into one that doesn’t just survive, but thrives. Loaded with practical, “how-to” examples drawn from decades of fieldwork, Gulati offers strategies that can help companies survive a recession, get ahead during a slow-growth recovery and be ready to win when good times return.

Agile Leadership that Transcends Derailers and Overcomes Inertia

Spurred by uncertainty about the future, many companies are rushing to become an agile organization to remain competitive. Despite the increasing need for agility, organizations may resist the change, and agile-curious leaders may not know or have have the skills to bring this strategy to life. Management expert and award-winning author Ranjay Gulati has spent decades bridging strategy, organizational design and leadership to form a comprehensive model for developing agile leadership, especially during tremendous market uncertainty. Interactive and accessible to any audience, Gulati first provides leaders with a detailed assessment of the inertial forces that perpetuate stagnation and failure, making it hard for established organizations to be agile. Building on these derailers, he introduces leaders to specific actions they can take to anticipate and ultimately transcend them. Finally, he concludes with a personal leadership roadmap for those seeking to develop agile and self-management skills in themselves, providing a path to embracing agility with a winning mindset.

Unleashing Human Potential and Unlocking Superior Performance

Some of the best sports coaches usually find ways to elevate individual and team performance beyond what the players themselves thought was possible. Great leaders do the same. Top-rated Harvard Business School professor Ranjay Gulati is an expert in understanding what different types of leaders across industries do to unleash human potential and unlock superior performance. Engaging, energetic and relatable, Gulati draws from case studies on leaders ranging from Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, to Satya Nadella of Microsoft, to illustrate how organizations can draw out a higher level of achievement and consistency from their employees. In interactive engagements, he demonstrates to leaders how to build trusting relationships and move from imaginary empowerment to real empowerment, deftly displaying how to transform a transactional mindset into a relational one. By breaking down each of the powerful levers that leaders have at their disposal, Gulati delivers an effective analysis of how individuals and teams discover new levels of performance.

HBR Harvard Business Review 2022

The Soul of a Start-up

July-August 2019

Most leaders are generalists in connecting their strategy with a way to implement it, and the advice they receive tends to be compartmentalized. Ranjay Gulati, the foremost expert on unlocking growth potential for high-performance organizations, is uniquely positioned to guide leaders on strategy formulation and implementation. He also explores more fundamental questions related to a company’s purpose, values, and culture, revealing how to leverage the benefits of a purpose-first organization. Gulati specializes in offering leaders powerful ways of marrying long-term value and short-term performance. A top-rated Harvard Business School professor, as well as the former chair of the Advanced Management Program, Harvard’s flagship senior leader executive program, he bridges strategy, organizational design and leadership to form his award-winning approach.

His highly interactive, custom-designed courses, drawn from extensive field research at organizations like LEGO, Gotham Greens, Warby Parker, Microsoft and the Seattle Seahawks, demonstrate how leaders can change how they conceive, relate to and execute strategy in their organization. Accessible and relatable, Gulati’s engagements support all levels of leadership experience, from high-potential leaders rising to the executive level to experienced long-timers looking to reinvigorate their organization. A talented instructional course designer, his arrangements help leaders learn new tools and approaches on orienting a business around a meaningful purpose, set strategies that can help the chosen purpose come to life and create an environment that can unleash the potential of your organization.

Professor Gulati advises and speaks to corporations large and small around the globe. He also frequently leads small-group workshops focused on helping leadership teams of high-growth companies enhance the growth trajectory of their businesses. Some of his representative speaking and consulting clients include Abbott Laboratories, Adidas, Aetna, Allergan, Bank of America, Bank of China, Baxter, Berkshire Partners, Blackrock, Boston Scientific, Bristol Myers Squibb, Brown Brothers Harriman, Caterpillar, Credit Suisse, Expedia, Ford, GE, General Mills, Google, Henkel, Hitachi, Honda, Hospira, IBM, Iron Mountain, Kellogg Company, Keybank, KPMG, LaFarge, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Metlife, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Novartis, Ochsner, P & G, Qualcomm, Sanofi, SAP, Target, Temasek, Unilever and Vertex.

“Pursuing a purpose as a company means arriving at a clear understanding of what you were put on this planet to do. It helps you steer in the right direction, navigate tradeoffs, and, when connected to a social or personal purpose, it can inspire remarkable performance. ‘Deep Purpose’ peels back the layers to unveil what it truly takes to cultivate a purpose-driven culture, one that enables both the company and its employees to experience its power and benefit from the growth it can generate.”

Corie Barry, CEO, Best Buy

“Many leaders give lip service to purpose, but few know how to create a compelling one. Ranjay Gulati is a preeminent scholar of organizational strategy, and in this book he shows what it takes to walk the talk on purpose. It’s an insightful, practical, and timely read on building a mission that serves employees, customers, and communities along with shareholders.”

Adam Grant, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of “Think Again”; Host of the TED podcast WorkLife

“In this provocative and richly researched book, Ranjay Gulati argues that the pursuit of profits without purpose is no longer a sustainable business model. As he shows, the road to high performance, for both individuals and for companies, depends on deepening our connection to enduring and essential human values. If you want to be inspired to build more sustainable organizations, ‘Deep Purpose’ should be your next read.”

Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO, Thrive Global

“’Deep Purpose’ points to the conversations we must have right now about how to redefine the role of business in society, restore trust, and enhance our license to operate. As Gulati rightly argues, the winning formula is moral leadership and a multistakeholder model with purpose at its core. It entails both leadership and systems transformation. Highly recommended.”

Paul Polman, Former CEO, Unilever

“Leaders often invoke the rhetoric of corporate purpose to elevate their or their company’s image. But for the people who work in these companies, the search for purpose is a real and defining part of their professional life. Gulati’s book illustrates how the best leaders help employees discover a tangible link between the organization’s stated purpose and what they do on the job. When people “come alive” with a sense of purpose in their work, their motivation, energy, and creativity blossoms.”

Ken Frazier, Former CEO, Merck

“Many leaders today strive to align purpose with financial success, but only a few succeed. Gulati analyzes the tough challenges that leaders everywhere must address if they are to save the planet while also delivering strong profits. He provides a compelling account of what it means to be purpose-driven–a crucial objective for us as well as other organizations in the social innovation space.”

Toshiaki Higashihara, CEO, Hitachi

“Purpose isn’t a “nice-to-have” in the business world anymore. It’s a “must-have.” Purpose-driven organizations will lead the future, and Ranjay Gulati’s ‘Deep Purpose’ is essential reading for anyone who wants to be at the head of the pack. This comprehensive guide breaks down why cultivating purpose isn’t just the right thing for businesses to do–it’s the smart thing too.”

Carmine Di Sibio, Global Chairman and CEO, EY

“Brilliant and thought-provoking as ever, Ranjay Gulati applies scholarly rigor to the important topic of purpose. This book is a must-read for all leaders who wish to embark on or continue a journey toward a vibrant, high-performance business.”

Kasper Rorsted, CEO, Adidas

"Where Gulati's book shines is in its emphasis on putting people and the health of the planet first. Doing so isn’t naïve, he says, but rather brace and necessary in today’s rapidly changing world."

SUCCESS Magazine

“In this short guide, Harvard Business School’s Ranjay Gulati offers plenty of useful advice about how leaders can set a principled course for their businesses.”

Financial Times

“Deep Purpose will not be the last book to claim to show leaders the way, but it stands out as a thoughtful account of the dilemmas, trade-offs and pitfalls of moving beyond the pure-profit imperative, and how to overcome them.”

Financial Times