smith+co on
customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Sep 11 2015

Just how powerful is your purpose?

"When organisational purpose and personal purpose intersect, you get a very powerful force for change for good"*

Within hours, over 100,000 UK citizens had signed the government e-petition to request David Cameron to increase the UK intake of refugees fleeing war-torn homelands. This petition was more than just an emotional response to the compelling media images; it was a clear sign of a united purpose amongst a mass of strangers. And when a collective force has such a common purpose, action usually follows. Within days of the petition passing the 100,000 mark, the prime minister signalled a new direction.

It’s clear that the refugee crisis has lessons for all of us on many different levels, even in the business world. When leaders face big decisions, the problem of division amongst the wider organisation can often be the first and final hurdle. With different voices speaking from different agendas, it can be difficult for a leadership team to make the right call. However, if there’s one thing that unites people, it’s a meaningful purpose. That vital and overarching question ‘What are we going to stand up for’ should be a regular visitor in our thought process.

When this exact question surfaced in the minds of the UK population last week, a clear purpose emerged in a matter of hours - we needed our leaders to help those in desperate need. The decision to reallocate funds followed soon afterwards. As so often happens, the act of becoming clear about a purpose simplifies the decisions needed to take to achieve it.

A purpose inspires the behaviour that is consistent with it and helps to create the culture required to sustain the effort. Of course, there will always be other hurdles to face later down the line, and we’ve seen this in recent aid-initiatives where extensive funds remain unspent after the initial response due to an inefficient delivery process. In politics, as well as in business, if leaders lack the resolve or means to stand firm with the agreed plans, the purpose becomes more of an exercise in rhetoric than a real plan.

When it comes to delivering your purpose, you can’t force it, fake it or fudge it; even if it means standing firm against other views. One of the most purposeful brands we know is the environmentally-focused clothing company Patagonia, its founder, Yvon Chouinard says; “If you’re not pissing off 50 per cent of the people, you’re not trying hard enough”.

Sometimes, purpose can often be overlooked by those who initially defined it as they move on to focus on other short term goals like profitability or cost-cutting for example. It is vital for politicians and business leaders to revisit the purpose of their activity and remind themselves of why they embarked on the journey in the first place. A case in point, Tesco lost sight of its core purpose “To create value for customers to earn their lifetime loyalty” and has seen its fortunes decline as a result. Only now is it rediscovering its way.

Business and politics are constantly in a state of change. This unpredictability demands adaption and course changes but the key is to keep the purpose of the organisation at the heart of every big decision because it provides the compass that helps us navigate through the turbulent waters.

How do you keep your purpose at the heart of your decisions?

* Quote from On Purpose - Delivering a Branded Customer Experience People Love by Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan. If you’d like to know more about the importance of purpose in business, click here to order your copy.