Anticipating a few days break, a number of business owners have asked me what they should be doing ”usefully” during their time-off. The obvious answer is “nothing at all” – really they should be putting their laptops away and learn to relax, however, this answer is seldom sufficient.
“Well, if you have to do something, why not consider what your business’ purpose is? Why does it exist?”
The standard retort is “to make money, pay the bills….”, or something similar. However, in my view, these are outputs of their purpose not the purpose itself and the better they are at defining it, the better they will perform in achieving their financial goals.
The underpinning rationale for defining the business purpose is compelling. Without a defined purpose, every business risks drifting - being swept along in the flow. Research by PWC, suggests that for millennials, one of their key considerations is their connectedness with the organisational purpose. Separately, team motivation is shown to be much stronger when there is a cause that unites. Simon Sinek famously referenced the importance of “The Why” in how great leaders inspire action – have a look at this TED talk.
So how do you find your organisation’s purpose?
In my view, the best purpose statements share a number of common features:
- Ambitious. Although a dose of realism is ok, it’s worth thinking about a purpose that inspires action rather than provokes a “so what” response. No one can accuse Starbucks of being unambitious with their purpose statement - “to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.
- Authentic. Customers, suppliers and particularly staff need to recognise the purpose as being reflective of the organisation’s true values and not something invented for public consumption. Perhaps we might have spotted an impending disaster at Enron earlier had we computed that their declared purpose was, "We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.... We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don't belong here."
- Social connection. The purpose should reflect the organisation’s place within the wider world – ideally supporting a higher aim. Take Kellogg’s purpose - “Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive”.
- Passion. Having a purpose is one thing but obtaining buy-in within the business is critical so that every staff member understands that when they work for the business they are all striving to achieve the same thing. Oxfam is unequivocal with their purpose – showing intent that can inspire - “Our purpose is to help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty. We are part of a global movement for change, and free from poverty.”
Our purpose at South West Growth Service is very straightforward but inspires us. It is to help South West businesses change, grow and succeed. Contact us if you need support whatever your sector, size or ambition.
Chris Lorimer is a highly experienced management consultant with South West Growth Service. He is also the co-founder of 373 Group.