Unveiling the Growth Secrets of the World’s Most Admired Companies

Four strategies for driving growth and innovation during economic uncertainty.

In today’s evolving business environment, understanding the growth strategies of the World’s Most Admired Companies (WMAC) can provide invaluable insights for C-suite leaders navigating their organizations toward sustained success. During a recent Korn Ferry webinar, key industry figures from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Mastercard joined our experts to share profound insights into the mechanisms driving growth and innovation in their organizations.

From the conversation emerged the following four strategies for success.

1. Innovation at the Forefront

The World’s Most Admired Companies found that 56% of these top-tier companies are committed to continually innovating their product offerings. This isn't just about launching new products but also enhancing existing ones, thereby balancing transformative innovation with incremental improvements to stay ahead in their markets. “Innovation is at the core of P&G,” said Victor Aguilar, Chief R&D and Innovation Officer at P&G. “And we focus on a product portfolio of daily use categories where performance drives brand choice and making sure those brands are superior — across product performance, packaging, brand communication, retail execution and consumer and customer value.” 

Aguilar illustrated this with examples from P&G’s strategy. He noted how their focus on understanding and fulfilling consumer articulated and unarticulated needs has led to transformative innovations—for example, how the laundry detergent business has shifted from powders to liquid and high-efficiency solutions. 

P&G’s commitment to deep consumer understanding has fueled innovations like Tide Pods and transformed consumer habits in laundry care. He emphasized the role of investing in superiority, ensuring that P&G's offerings are not just better but the best to delight consumers and drive market growth.

2. Diversification to Build Resilience

Over half of the World’s Most Admired Companies are investing in enriching customer experiences, while 29% have a strategic focus on expanding into new customer segments. This highlights diversification as a key tactic for buffering against economic volatilities. During the webinar, Mastercard’s Chief People Officer Michael Fraccaro discussed how the company is transforming itself “from traditionally being seen as a credit card company knowing that a single particular product isn't going to be sustainable.”

Fraccaro explained how Mastercard plans to grow and innovate in the fast-changing payments and technology landscape. The company is concentrating on expanding current products, entering new business areas, and adapting to emerging consumer trends and behaviors. The surge in e-commerce amid the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Mastercard to innovate beyond conventional payment methods. This includes transforming everyday devices into payment tools and transitioning away from traditional plastic cards to enable payments via smartphones and wearable technology.

Innovation at Mastercard is embedded across the organization, reflecting a cultural shift towards continual innovation. This includes fostering an innovative mindset through events and activities that encourage employees to bring forward ideas and integrating AI tools like ChatGPT to maintain a forward-thinking workplace.

Beyond innovation and efficiency, organizations have an opportunity right now to look at generative AI for growth opportunities. “While 86% of the World’s Most Admired Companies are harnessing AI to fuel productivity gains, a surprising twist is just about 51% are looking at how to use AI to directly drive new revenue streams,” says Laura Manson-Smith, Global Leader of Korn Ferry’s Organization Strategy Consulting practice and one of the webinar cohosts.

3. Leveraging Talent and Technology

A significant portion of the discussion was dedicated to the synergy between talent and technology in driving growth. Aguilar shared how P&G employs AI and other tools to optimize their R&D processes, drastically cutting down development time and enhancing the efficacy of their innovations. This strategic application of technology not only streamlined operations but also accelerated the pace at which new products are brought to market.

 “Within our integrated strategy for P&G, we have a focus on constructive disruption,” Aguilar said. “This is the ability and the concept of raising the bar ourselves—to innovate the way we innovate and execute our innovation in a much better way.” As a result, P&G has created an environment where the organization can “adopt and embrace new tools that accelerate innovation,” he added.

One of the critical competitive advantages detailed by Aguilar is the reduced time it takes to bring new products to market. This rapid deployment capability allows P&G to stay ahead of industry trends and meet consumer needs more swiftly than competitors. In addition, the integration of new technologies has fostered a culture of innovation within P&G. This culture is critical in sustaining long-term growth as it encourages continuous improvement and adaptation in a rapidly changing business environment.

Aguilar’s discussion underscores the transformative impact of melding human talent with technological capabilities. This combination not only enhances P&G’s operational efficiencies and product offerings but also positions the company at the forefront of industry innovation. By continuously raising the bar on their processes, P&G creates a dynamic cycle of improvement and competitive advantage.

P&G’s approach also underscores the crucial role employees play in company success. “While technology is the most significant pillar in many of the World’s Most Admired Companies’ growth strategies, 82% of their executives said talent was more important than technology in driving that growth,” says Tessa Misiaszek, Head of Research at the Korn Ferry Institute, Korn Ferry’s research arm, and webinar cohost.

4. Culture: The Ultimate Growth Lever

Fraccaro pointed out how changing the culture has been critical in fostering innovation. By championing diversity and inclusion, Mastercard has not only enhanced its workplace but also its product innovations, adapting to the dynamic demands of the global market. The organization has also embedded innovation into its culture, and as part of its strategy, Mastercard engages its entire workforce in innovation processes. This has democratized idea generation and implementation across the board.

To foster innovation, a growth mindset is essential. Aquilar explained that cultivating this mindset requires that “the organization is embracing that entrepreneurial mindset,” he continued, “which is this idea of finding an idea, testing the idea, proofing the concept, and of course, trying to scale it.”

Aguilar also emphasized the need for psychological safety, enabling experimentation and learning from failures without fear—crucial for innovation. Both Fraccaro and Aguilar agreed that an innovative organizational culture significantly contributes to a company’s market value and competitive edge. They stressed that creating environments that foster psychological safety, allowing team members to experiment freely and innovate, is essential for driving breakthrough innovations.

Key Takeaways for C-Suite Leaders

To fuel growth through innovation, C-suite executives need to think holistically and consider:

  • How can we foster a growth mindset across our organization?
  • What organizational and individual capabilities do we need to develop?
  • How do we best organize and collaborate to generate winning ideas?
  • How do we align our systems so that innovation flourishes?

For C-suite leaders, these insights are not just theoretical but practical blueprints for guiding their companies through the complexities of modern markets. By embracing these strategies, they can ensure their organizations not only survive but thrive in the competitive landscape of tomorrow.

To find out how Korn Ferry helps clients fuel growth through innovation, learn more about our Culture, Change, and Communications capabilities.