Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Just over two weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown in New Zealand and already much has been written about what our society will look like “afterwards”. Theories and speculation abound, but one theme is common – some aspects of our lives will be changed for a long time to come, perhaps forever. The lockdown, with nowhere to go and retail cold-turkey is likely to encourage people re-evaluate many of their choices in life, including spending. This will have trickle-down impacts on businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Whether a company is still trading as essential service, or paused and grappling with what the future of the business may look like, we are presented with an important question – why does this company exist? What is the purpose of this company? And how will we position it beyond Covid-19?
Having a clear sense of purpose, and with values aligned to it, will not only guide us through the current challenge, but enable clear articulation of who we are as a company when we are on the other side.
Even for marketers, establishing a clear purpose for our companies can be one of the most abstract challenges we face. But communicating who we are and what we stand for to staff, customers, suppliers, banks and other stakeholders can inform, inspire and engage with just a few words.
Purpose is defined as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”; or “a person’s sense of resolve or determination” (thank you Lexico by Oxford). I believe that the former enables the latter - knowing why we’re doing or creating something enables everyone connected with our business to join us as we work towards it.
But why bother with it at all? We’re fine with what we’ve got, aren’t we? Are we? Boston Consulting Group[i] has looked at companies that do and don’t display purposeful behaviour and analysed company performance. There are strong correlations between purposeful businesses and successful businesses. While a highly engaged and determined workforce, doing the right jobs, and aligned to a purpose won’t always guarantee success and growth, the opposite will almost always hamper success.
More and more, investors and partners are looking to take a more proactive and holistic approach to understanding their network of customers and suppliers, and an authentic, inspirational purpose statement can make an organisation stand out.
Additionally, tomorrow’s business leaders want to start their careers well. They want to work for companies that adopt more of a triple bottom line (people and planet as well as profit) approach to demonstrating success. Once the main questions for prospective employees were what, where and how much? Now our emerging talent wants to know why, how and who? By being a purposeful business, we have the opportunity to build our reputations from the inside out.
A good purpose statement should be inspiring, authentic, memorable and brief. Anyone within the organisation (and hopefully others connected to it) should be able to state the company’s purpose by heart with ease, and with passion and pride. Hence, less is more.
There’s no secret formula to creating a meaningful, unifying, motivating purpose, but it does require some tools-down time to search the soul of the company, as well as looking outside for inspiration. This process doesn’t necessarily need to be led by the board or most senior executives. Buy-in throughout the company can be greatly assisted by delegating this role to a carefully chosen and well supported cross-functional team.
I like to use these five steps to help in unearthing purpose.
1. Examine the status quo
2. Dream your future
3. Develop and distil
5. Communicate and celebrate
Once the purpose statement has been established, integration is vital – a good purpose poorly integrated will have little value and can cause cynicism. Our purpose should be the life blood of our organisation – with values built around it, teams immersed in it, projects aligned to it, and suppliers, partners and stakeholders inspired by it.
So, wherever we take our companies once we start moving back through the C-19 alert levels, a solid foundation of purpose will help guide the adjustments and innovations that are sure to come.
Lead it, live it, love it.
[i] For Corporate Purpose to Matter, You’ve Got to Measure It, Boston Consulting Group, August 2018