One of the fundamental tenets of a successful organisation is to know your purpose. It is the rudder that keeps your organisation on course, through storms and high winds. It is the impetus for meaningful action, more important than the pursuit of profits.
Your purpose needs to be clear and succinct and known throughout the organisation, more tangible than a vision and more powerful than a mission statement. It is your core purpose and should resonate through every employee, underlying every decision. Your purpose helps you make choices that support it and hire people that share it.
Why it’s important to Know your Purpose
In the late 1800s, one of the most technologically advanced businesses in any town was the Ice Man. They provided large blocks of ice for food transport by rail and delivered it to every home 3 days a week.
Ice plant owners had the monopoly on a necessity for every food distributor and every home. But they failed to realise their purpose. When owners were offered dealerships for the first refrigerators, all refused. They thought no one would be able to afford refrigerators, people would always need blocks of ice. They failed to realise their purpose wasn’t delivering blocks of ice, but keeping food cold.
In the book, Built to Last, Jim Collins writes, ‘Leaders die, products become obsolete, markets change, new technologies emerge, and management fads come and go, but core ideology in a great company endures as a source of guidance and inspiration’.
There are countless examples of organisations, unaware of their purpose, missing opportunities in changing markets and new technologies.
‘Blockbuster specialise in DVD and video game rental stores retailing DVD, Video, and Video Games for Home Entertainment.' The problem with this is clear.
If Blockbuster’s purpose was more like their slogan, ‘Never be without a movie’ they might have bought Netflix when offered it in 2000.
How do you find your purpose?
Your organisation's purpose is why you do it, not what you do or how you do it. Your purpose is solving real problems and adding value for your customer or end-user. What is the real problem you are solving? If you understand the job you are doing for your end-user, that becomes your purpose.
Kodak thought they were in the paper and chemicals business. They were one of the largest companies in the world and were completely disrupted by technology – the internet and the digital camera. They failed to realise their real purpose was capturing, storing and sharing memories, moments and emotions. A Kodak employee invented a digital camera in 1975, Kodak hid it, thinking their purpose was paper and chemicals.
A 'why' focussed purpose allows you to innovate, to transcend technologies and prevent disruption, to change markets and gain a competitive advantage. It gives you a strategic starting point that helps you filter what you shouldn’t do and focus on what you should.
Learn powerful tools for realising your true purpose and applying it across your business at our upcoming workshop 'Innovation Strategy - The One-Day Workshop'