How To Determine Your Company’s Purpose

posted in: Culture, Purpose | 2

In the previous post I closed saying that “to determine the real Purpose of a company the ‘Why-question’ is a powerful tool, even in places where avoidance or neglect is strongest.”

Let’s look into that, and a few other ways to determine your company’s purpose.

How to…

Defining your core purpose is all about clarity, authenticity, and alignment. This means that you do not have to sound “sexy.” This is not something that has to sound impressive on a billboard. It does, however, have to feel meaningful. You’ll know when you finally identify your core purpose because it will be accompanied by a strong sense of conviction. Your team will feel a deep “yes!” when it is uncovered. (source: How to discover your company’s core purpose by Wendy Maynard on Kinesis).

Imagine you’re starting something new, with the only intent to sell your business, as soon as possible for as much money as possible. You have absolutely no intent to build, grow sustain a company. Still, you’ll be better off with a defined purpose. First, because nowadays even investors look at your ‘why’ before providing shiploads of money to you. But more importantly, a Purpose helps to gather and commit people. Whatever brilliant idea you have in mind, it is unlikely you can get there all by yourself.

So how are you going to get to your soul? See if this makes any sense:

  • You: ‘ok, but I’m in it for the money’.
  • Why?
  • You: ‘to get rich fast’
  • Why?
  • You: ‘to buy me all luxury I’ve ever dreamed of’
  • Why?
  • You: ‘to enjoy a much longer retirement than others’
  • Why?
  • You: ‘to many people die shortly after they stopped working: when they were physically capable to enjoy the beauties of life they were working, now that they could enjoy they physically can’t anymore, or die’

The conversation may go differently, the thing is, even if you believe it is just about the money, asking “why” (if done skillfully) almost always uncovers the underlying reasons, the purpose. And having that at hand might make it easier to find just those people believing the same and going the extra mile to get even more money out of your initiative.

Asking ‘Why’ as in the previous example is a pretty simple way. It may however not always be sufficient, and not everybody is comfortable exposing themselves to a person that keeps asking them “why” (because indeed, it means letting somebody look insight your soul). Not sure where to start? Here are some questions that can help you determine your core purpose:

  • Why does our organization’s existence matter?
  • What is our most important reason for being here? Why?
  • What would be lost if this organization ceased to exist?
  • Why are we important to the people we serve?
  • Why would anyone dedicate their precious time, energy, and passion to our company? (Note: the answer is not money.)

If you feel it is still kind of cryptic, let me offer you an additional exercise. You can use this exercise in two ways:

  1. You’re starting-up and want to check if you defined your Purpose in such way that you can truly believe in it.
  2. You have a history – short or long – and like to understand if your team is aligned somehow on that deep “yes!”

The first way to use it:

  • Imagine sending yourself a postcard from the future. Try answering the question “What will you do and bring to being in the next 1,000 days?”. What would be on the postcard?
postcard from the future
Postcard from the Future – Purpose exercise; Happy Startup Homeschool
  • If you feel it makes sense, you have answered the question, if you can answer it quickly, then likely your Purpose is rather solid. However, not being able to put into words what your Purpose would have as (non-commercial) effect means you might want to iterate the exercise. Iterate till you feel you got it right

The second way to use it:

  • Take the same question as above. However send it to your executive team (don’t exclude yourself).
  • If you do the exercise digitally, send a postcard template along with the question.
  • If you do the exercise in person, make sure you bring along postcards on which to write
  • Once you have each executive’s answer on a postcard, call a meeting.
  • Let each participant spend a few minutes on their postcard.
  • Try to come to a common understanding of your “Why?” through an open discussion
    • Remember to ask “why” a lot…

Some examples to provide you food for thought (credit for all: Happy Startup Homeschool)

Purpose Examples

Let me give you a last reason why you are better off taking time to determine your Purpose: Juan Carlos Eichholz in his book Adaptive Capacity (chapter 4) provides five key variables for Purpose (Difference, People with Purpose, Legacy, Connection, and Narrative), the essence of each of the variables is that they contribute to the management of the system, not the people. They influence a company’s ways of being in such manner that people want to be part of the company, and go the extra mile to ensure sustainability of the company: they increase the company’s Adaptive Capacity, its ability to cope with (unexpected) change fast.

Purpose Equalizer
Purpose Equalizer; “Adaptive Capacity” [p:129]- Juan Carlos Eichholz

Having a clear #Purpose increases a company’s ability to cope with (unexpected) change FAST. Click To Tweet

Wrapping up

Prepare to ask ‘Why’ a lot. Don’t let yourself and others off the hook. Having a clear Purpose helps…

HsHs - Purpose
Purpose; Happy Startup Homeschool

And it is then and only then that you can grasp the opportunity of outperforming others by 400%.

That’s all folks… for this part of the dance!

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