Is Your Company “On Purpose?”

Passion and purpose win the day

A few weeks ago the New Zealand Rugby team arrived in Japan to play in the Rugby World Cup tournament 2019. They had won the last two world cups, back to back, have the highest win rate of any rugby team in the professional era and without doubt are the most successful rugby team ever. They have been called, by many, the most successful sports team ever. New Zealand is a country of 4.8 million people. Rugby in New Zealand isn’t just a sport, a game of win or lose; it’s a religion! As James Kerr says in his book Legacy, when you are facing the All Blacks, you are facing a culture, an identity, an ethos, a belief system – and a collective passion and purpose beyond anything you have faced before. Many teams have lost before the game starts! It is undoubtedly hard to create this level of purpose in a business, but we can come close and we should try, because when our people have a purpose bigger than themselves to come to work, they will put their whole selves in.

Make work a purpose, not a place.

Tom Rath

Why does your business exist?

This is a question that the founders of your business will have asked themselves when they put it together at the outset. They may not have written it down, of course, because they just knew it and they all lived it, in every interaction with each other and with the early customers. Your purpose is your ‘reason for being’ and there are so many pieces of research that show that when people understand your purpose, and most importantly live your purpose, you will attract people to it (and therefore your business).

The issue starts in organisations when they grow beyond the start-up and start to recruit more people who haven’t got that automatic understanding of your ‘Why’ as Simon Sinek so brilliantly puts it in his TED talk. So we do need to write it down and we do need to communicate it. Why is this so important? Purpose needs to be at the heart of every business and every individual. If we have a strong belief in what we do, we will be passionate about it, we will show that passion, we will recommend our business to others who might be good enough to join us, we will demand more of our colleagues around us, and because we care so much, we will find it easy to sell, because it doesn’t feel like selling.

Our Purpose is also one of our key decision filters

A decision filter is something that helps us make the right decisions in life and business. Personally, we are guided by our values, and our motivational drivers, these allow us to decide what we do in our lives day in and day out – we decide what fits and what doesn’t. Without these in place it’s hard to make a decision; it’s hard to know what is right and what is wrong. In a business we need the same mechanism to help all our people make the right decisions, because we know that the best businesses allow their people to make decisions at the front line, on their own, without referring to their boss. Purpose, along with Vision, Values, Strategy and Brand are all business Decision Filters. Without all these in place and understood, then where do you start in the annual setting of your Strategic Priorities? How do you know who to recruit or promote or fire? How to judge whether a prospect will likely make a great customer or whether to acquire a business?

Let me tell you a story that highlights the importance of a Purpose; not only in having one, but in engaging your whole workforce in it.

Creating Happiness: The Disney Magic

A good friend of mine was in Disney World, Florida, going through a leadership programme to learn some of the Disney magic that he could apply back in his business and with his clients.

During the lunch break one day, he and two of his colleagues were walking around the Park and taking in the sunshine. They decided it would be a good idea to take some selfies to remind them of the great trip they were having. A Disney employee was sweeping up some litter nearby and spotted them. She came straight over and asked them how their day was and if she could help them by taking some pictures of them together. Perfect, they thought, and she snapped away.

They returned to the classroom in the afternoon and were greeted by the course director who asked them how their lunch had gone. They relayed the story to the director who smiled from ear to ear. ‘That’s fabulous’ he said, “I am so pleased to hear it. You see, at Disney, we say to all our Cast Members (staff to you and me) that they have to be “On Purpose” for 100% of their time. However, if they see an opportunity to reinforce our purpose, even if it takes them off their task for a while, they should go for it. What they must never do, for even a minute, is be “Off Purpose.”

Disney describe their Core Purpose as “a single unifying principle that connects every Cast Member with the emotional aspirations of our Guests.” Beautifully put, I think.

In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review is an article by Thomas Malnight and Charles Dhanaraj entitled ‘Put Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy.’ They conducted research on what high growth companies had in common and what they found surprised them. In addition to creating new markets, serving broader stakeholder needs and changing the rules of the game, they found that there was a fourth driver and that was Purpose.

But this wasn’t putting Purpose on the periphery of your strategy, this was putting it at the core. Purpose allowed companies to redefine their playing field and reshape their value proposition. High growth companies don’t feel limited by their current playing field, they think about whole ecosystems and relationships amongst multiple stakeholders. But they don’t approach this haphazardly, they let their purpose be their guide.

So, find your purpose, embed it in your business, move it to the centre of your strategy and make sure that everyone sees it as a filter to make decisions.