In Mission, Michael Hayman and Nick Giles of Seven Hills explain how companies must campaign constantly to retain a competitive edge, writes Jimmy McLoughlin
Normally I don’t read business books and when I do, I don’t enjoy them. They are often full of nonsense about creating “holistic, progressive and dynamic organisations”. But Mission: How the best in business break through – by Michael Hayman and Nick Giles – is different.
It is a story of the way they started their own business, Seven Hills, a firm which advises companies on how to communicate their business message to consumers and other companies.
In theory, it should be easy for them to write a book on communications, which is a fair point until you consider how terrible some communications firms, PR companies and newspapers are at handling their own message and image. After all, it is often easier to give advice to friends and family than to take it for yourself.
Mission, though, is a clear and thoughtful read and simply the most invigorating business book that I have ever read.
Each chapter is powerful and interesting. Factual books often tend to get weaker as you read them, but this is not the case with Mission. On two occasions I missed my Tube stop because I was too engrossed.
It is full of useful case studies and tips from leaders of all shapes and sizes of business. Here are just a few leading figures whose advice it includes: Sir Stuart Rose, former chair of Marks and Spencer, Sir James Dyson, Stephen Fitzpatrick of Ovo Energy, Decoded’s Kathryn Parsons and Dido Harding of TalkTalk.
Mission includes the stories of some of the biggest start-ups, including Uber and Airbnb, a useful recent history lesson for anyone interested in the tech and start-up space (I didn’t realise the ‘air’ came from air mattresses on the floor).
The overarching message is that businesses need to campaign constantly to get their messages across. As soon as the campaign mindset is lost, or it becomes unclear, the whole nature of the business falls down – think Volkswagen and the emissions scandal.
Mission explains what business and politics have to learn from each other, and how the two are merging more than ever, which explains why Uber hired David Plouffe, a former adviser to President Obama last year, and why Chris Lehane, a former adviser to President Clinton, joined Airbnb.
More fundamentally, Mission looks at modern capitalism and how it needs to communicate itself.
Readers may agree that capitalism has been the most successful wealth generator that the world has ever seen. From its beginnings it has lifted more people out of poverty than anyone could have imagined. Part of capitalism’s success has been to reinvent itself; agricultural capitalism, industrial capitalism, Fordism and post-Fordism.
How can businesses win the trust of people using and engaging with their product while ensuring that they are not damaging the world and others around them at the same time?
Twenty, maybe even 10, years ago this may have been dismissed as liberal, wet, meaningless nonsense, but because of the internet – and the speed of information and communications – people can see the impact of their actions more than ever before.
Sometimes this spread of information doesn’t affect business as much as people might anticipate. Supermarket sales of meat, for instance, are now similar to where they were before the horsemeat crisis in 2013. However, capitalism’s problems in the 21st century have not been without its well-documented problems.
At the next general election, there will be people voting who were born in 2002. They were five years old when Tony Blair left office, they won’t remember him and certainly not what he stood for and represented.
It is simply not enough for those of us who believe in capitalism in tooth and claw to say the arguments were won so convincingly in the 1970s and 1980s that we don’t need to worry about them.
Capitalism will need to evolve to survive. Anyone who is interested in how this is taking place and how to communicate it should pick up a copy of Mission.
Mission: How the best in business break through – by Michael Hayman and Nick Giles – is published by Portfolio Penguin (£20)
Jimmy McLoughlin is the IoD’s deputy head of policy