Why knowing your purpose as a business is so important (and how to identify it)

Back in 2009, a little known British-born advertising executive wrote a book, and subsequently presented a TED talk which became one of the 3 most popular talks ever on the platform (at over 38 millions views).

Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why?’ appeared at a time when business, education and social leaders were starting to recognise the importance of identifying a purpose in work and life.

This week, I shared this link through my channels, which highlights the benefits some of these organisations are now seeing through being purpose led.

The article features the results of a B Corp (a network of purpose driven companies) survey which shows that certified businesses experienced an average year-on-year growth rate of 14 percent – 28 times higher than the national average.

Growth was attributed to a few factors:

  • Increased demand for goods that are responsibly produced
  • The tendency for consumers to spend more on products that have a positive impact
  • The ability to attract more engaged employees and see better collaboration in a purpose driven company

But what exactly is a purpose-led business?

I’ve always defined purpose (and some of the other buzz words around the topic) as follows:

  • Mission – what you do
  • Vision – where you’re going
  • Purpose – why you do it
  • Values – how you do it, and how you behave

Most people can tell you what your business does, but if you want employees to engage and commit to you long term, then understanding why you do what you do is crucial. As one Harvard study of almost 500 CEOs found, 84% believed that a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction.

So what’s the difference in real terms?

Well, Apple makes computers and electronics products, but Steve Job’s purpose for the company was to make beautifully designed products that were intuitive to use.

Virgin sold records (and now do loads of other things), but Richard Branson’s purpose was to make music accessible and give consumers a great experience – something he has continued to do in his other ventures. He has also championed the engagement and treatment of his staff, another of his purposes that transcends the business sector he is in at any time.

It’s the same for individuals as for companies. My driving purpose has always been to build and develop organisations and teams that make the world a better place. For 20 years I did that in the charity sector, with significant interaction with business, and now my purpose is outworked through my writing, speaking and consultancy business.

Identifying your purpose then, is key, but how do you do it?

In my work with clients, I always start with their values and purpose, as this is the foundation of any strategy. Yes – we want to know where we are trying to get to (our vision), but it’s vital to look back into the company’s history and ask questions around why the business started, what was the owner trying to achieve by starting, and why did they want to be different? Once we know what is important to us as business owners, we can begin to distill that vital difference between what we do, and why we do it.

Connecting with purpose means you’ve got something to hang on to in the tough times – reconnecting your team to the ‘Why?’ and making it strong enough really helps to pull people through a difficult period. But it also stops you from being pulled in different directions when things go well, and opportunities that will take you away from your core purpose come up.

Sinek’s book has now become a best seller. It’s a great place to start when it comes to finding your purpose as a business. And find it you must – the people who work for you and the people you work for will be looking for it, as the transition from transactional leadership to transformational continues at pace.

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