February 28, 2019
How to Find Your Purpose in Five Easy Steps
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Knowing the purpose of your company seems easy and obvious. But sometimes it is not. If you listen closely to what people say, they may describe your company very differently than you would in introductions or general conversation. And yet, it is one of the most critical elements.
The purpose influences the customers you attract, the people who want to be part of your company, and the way work happens every day.
Having clarity of purpose is key. Companies that have a clear purpose attract people that are excited about being there. They are bought in and, as a result, have higher engagement.
In a 2012 study titled “How Employee Engagement Drives Growth”, Gallup found organizations with high employee engagement had 21% higher productivity and 22% higher profits than companies with actively disengaged employees. According to Jim Harter of Gallup, "Engaged workers… have bought into what the organization is about and are trying to make a difference. This is why they're usually the most productive workers."
Clearly, there is a benefit to knowing your purpose. So, how do you find yours? I’ve found that there are five steps that can help you find your purpose. They involve internal and external feedback, understanding your capabilities and where you stack up vs.
Nothing brings more focus than writing something down. You may start with a blank sheet of paper and struggle to get words on the paper. Or maybe the words come easily and the paper fills rapidly. Either way, getting the words on paper makes them real and creates a focus that just talking or thinking doesn’t do.
The words that describe your purpose should ultimately be clear and concise. Can they be boiled down to one or two sentences? If it is longer than that, the possibility of a misunderstanding becomes higher. People start to tune out or become confused.
Beyond the writing down what the purpose is, indicating why that purpose is important can bring additional clarity. In many cases, the purpose may be obvious. In other cases, it may not. By writing down why, revisions to the purpose may be necessary to ensure the intention of why is reflected in the purpose itself.
The most insightful perspectives about your business may come from people who do business with you. Sometimes, treatment and attention vary based on who has the perceived power – the one who controls the dollar. If that treatment varies, you will get a very different perspective based on the flow of the dollars.
From a customer perspective, you will hear what your business does well and why customers keep coming back. Equally important, is hearing from former customers or those you would like to do business with but don’t. Their perspectives may tell you if there is a gap between what you believe you are delivering and what others believe you are delivering. It will tell you if you are living up to your purpose.
Why do your customers buy from you and not your competitors? Price is sometimes the answer, but not always. Your customers buy from you for some set of reasons. Maybe you are easy to do business with. Maybe your purpose is aligned with theirs. The reason for their purchases is typically deliberate.
Your investors put money into your company for a specific reason. Some may want a specific return. Others may be interested in specific activities your company is engaged in. For others, it may be about the purpose of your company. Understanding why they are investing and ensuring that you are on the same page is important.
Each of these perspectives will give you insight into why people and organizations spend money with you. Whether that perspective is how you perceive your purpose will help you either refine what your purpose is, or give you feedback on the need to change how you do business to get perception to align with your intended purpose.
At times, experiences can be significantly different for those that are on the receiving end of the dollar. Higher performing organizations do not typically distinguish the treatment of people and companies based on the dollar flow. This area is one that will tell you how well your purpose and values are showing up every day.
People that work in your organization have a unique perspective. They may or may not understand what you are trying to accomplish, your purpose. Formal methods of feedback include engagement surveys. Informal methods can include walking around and having conversations. Unless you have a high degree of trust, it is unlikely you will get a full perspective through informal methods. And you really need the perspective of your people. Beyond how well they understand your purpose, you also want to know if you are living it.
Your suppliers are also a wealth of information on what you do well. Your interactions and how easy or hard it is for your suppliers to do business with you will say a lot about your purpose. Do you partner and work collaboratively with your suppliers or do you treat them poorly?
This perspective is typically very insightful given the intimate relationship. It may be delightful and something that was not previously considered. It can be a different take on what you do well and why you exist. You may get a very different perspective from the people and organizations you pay that is not good. In any case, this feedback will help shape your purpose and next steps.
Part of defining your purpose is knowing what you do well – your capabilities. Maybe you can produce a product faster than anyone out there. Or you have outstanding customer service. List all of the capabilities of your organization that set you apart or are critical to the operations and confirm that they are indeed the key capabilities.
Your capabilities should naturally fit with the intended purpose. For example, let's say you make seatbelts. Seatbelts save lives (your purpose). If your capabilities include no defects/high quality and ability to meet customer demand, your capabilities support your purpose. But if you have high defects/failure rate in accidents and you can’t satisfy customer demand, your capabilities may not be supporting your purpose (saving lives).
If your capabilities and purpose are not quite aligned, it is time to figure out which needs adjusting – the purpose or the capabilities.
You do things well in your business. So do your competitors. Do you know what you do well and how that stacks up to your competitors? Getting an internal perspective on what each of you does well and your shortcomings are important. Having an external perspective on how you and your competitors stack up is critical.
External perspectives are available from many sources. Industry publications or organizations may be available for a varying level of cost and participation. In other words, you need to submit your information and pay a fee. Depending on how sensitive the information is, it may be that you get a tailored report that shows your information specifically and the rest of the industry in bands for confidentiality. Banks, auditors, insurance companies and consultants also have perspectives based on what they see in doing business with others in the industry. The information may be informal to formal with confidentiality considered.
Understanding what sets you apart from your competitors ultimately gets to purpose. The reason why customers buy from you vs. your competitors should be a reflection of your purpose.
A middle-market manufacturing company was undergoing a major transformation. Key to its success was clearly articulating the purpose of the company. In gaining feedback from many stakeholders, some obvious perspectives emerged from investors and leaders. Through the people came the importance of the legacy and impact to the community. Customers valued innovation, consistency and quality. And suppliers valued ongoing dialogue and close working relationships.
The exercise of reaching out to each of the stakeholder groups served to clarify and evolve the purpose of the organization. Over the course of months to years, depending upon the vantage point, the purpose was communicated and ultimately became clearly understood by all. And it created a stronger bond with each stakeholder group because they felt part of the purpose and became bought in and engaged.
Your purpose is the guiding light for your organization. Each of the steps above may point to the same or different purpose. If the feedback across each perspective is consistent and is a reflection of your purpose, congratulations, you have a clear purpose and it is recognized by your stakeholders and in your capabilities. However, if you are getting inconsistent perspectives on your purpose or your capabilities are not aligned with the purpose, refinements are needed to ensure your purpose is clear and capabilities are supportive of the purpose.
Once refinements are made, reach back out to key stakeholders and see if they have noticed changes and if they are consistent with your intentions.
The real test of the clarity of your purpose is when you see employee engagement, discretionary effort going up, better relations with customers and suppliers. Ultimately it will likely have a positive impact on the bottom line. Have you shared your purpose broadly? If not, why not get started today?
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