Few businesses exist without a nod to a purpose beyond their profit motive. Doing something to provide a great product or service makes the world a bit better or improves someone's health and well-being are the usual drivers – even if there may be differing views about the best way for those things to be achieved.
But in the day-to-day running of an organisation, is it easy for that original purpose to get lost. Even in those organisations where purpose 'the' critical reasons for existing – NFPs and health organisations, for example, the operational and financial necessities to keep the doors open can overwhelm.
However, purpose is a fundamental strategic driver and differentiator. As Harvard Business Review describes, purpose plays two essential roles in any organisation.
It redefines your playing field. Without purpose, you're simply vying for market share, which is by its nature a finite resource. If you're acting from a place of purpose, you're working within a much broader ecosystem and set of principles that will enable your market. And because that market is underpinned by an ecosystem of related interests and stakeholders, they operate in a much more flexible market space.
This might sound at odds with the loud message that you must niche and tightly define your market. But in fact, it needn't be; ultimately, if your purpose is your guide, it can prevent you from straying into generalist, open-ended product offerings.
Because of this, it allows you to reshape the value proposition of your offering and build a market based on trust. Your purpose will enable you to deepen your relationship with your customers and turn you from product to partner in helping them achieve their own goals or their goals for their communities.
I would add a third key benefit, and that is that it helps you hire the best staff for your business. If you use a shared sense of purpose rather than 'cultural fit' to hire staff, you open up your thinking to who that might be in unique ways. You also ensure that the people you hire are emotionally connected to and inherently interested in the work they are doing. If you love your purpose and your employees are aligned, it allows for the development of a sense of employee pride. Purpose is a crucial driver of staff engagement. Engagement is an essential driver of discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is what turns your business from good to great.
So how do you build purpose? If you haven't defined your purpose, this represents an excellent opportunity to engage your staff in a bit of organisational self-discovery. Involving your team in this process can be both enlightening for you and rewarding for them. To do so, it is as simple as asking a few questions start with a reflection on where the organisation has come from, and then moving through consideration of how you have ended up where you are, what makes your business unique and how that might be used to tap into future opportunities.
And then, you need to embed those answers into your strategy. Make a habit of checking in to see whether your decision making is aligned with your purpose. Whether your behaviours and those of your staff reflect those goals in practice and build in systems to correct course when they don't.
Those systems can come in the form of policies, manager training in raising and addressing issues and ensuring that leaders are role modelling behaviours. The payoff is significant – you will unify your organisation, motivate employees, customers and other stakeholders and inspire them to engage with your business and you broaden your impact as a business as well helping employees tap into a bigger picture with their work. All of those things should add up to a more profitable or financially stable (in the case of NFPs) business.