Identifying clear business purpose

There’s a lovely story about President Kennedy visiting the Nasa centre in Houston during the space-race era. He asks an old janitor sweeping the corridors what his job is. “I’m helping put a man on the moon, sir,” came the reply. This was an organisation with an inspiring sense of purpose.

A lot of companies start out with an equally well-defined idea of what they want to achieve. The founders have a vision which propels them through the painful startup process. It is a clear message which wins the confidence of investors, gives the product a premium price over rivals and lures top-calibre employees to join the mission. Yet, as time goes by, things get challenging.

When headcount increases, the company culture gets diluted. Diversification means the original brand statement feels a little out of date, so gets put to one side.

All too often a company will lose its identity. Employees aren’t entirely sure what they are striving towards. The job becomes a pay check.

This corrosion is well documented. Its effects are well known. What companies want to know is how to keep that original sense of drive.

This isn’t about shutting the senior team into a room and getting them to brainstorm. In fact, a common mistake is to approach this as an exercise in reinvention. You can spot this a mile off when buzzwords like “global” or “innovative” start infiltrating mission statements.  These words just don’t mean anything to people.

What we’re actually looking for is the passion that originally brought the company into existence

I’d never say “Gosh, Debbie was very global today.” As for “innovative”, show me a firm that doesn’t want to be.

What companies need is a set of principles which everyone can understand. This ought to be like a mini-constitution, written with the help of everyone affected, which instantly communicates the purpose and characteristics of the brand. It takes time to create and it’s often a process of excavation rather than innovation.

What we’re actually looking for is the passion that originally brought the company into existence. It’s way beyond the business plan and growth strategy, it’s what motivates people to get up in the morning and instils a sense of pride in their work.

That’s not to say you don’t need data. At IncrediBull, we work with large tech and financial services companies, and as you’d expect, their board members are used to detailed analysis. Our process, however, although thorough, aims to generate enthusiasm and excitement. It’s about finding the eureka moments that get to the core of what the business is striving to achieve.

Such was one client’s excitement, we were repeatedly stopped in the corridor by board members wanting to recite their newly articulated purpose. This purpose and the accompanying elements of the brand box are rarely complicated. In fact, they’re usually a study in simplicity.

To find them, we use a trade-marked multi-step process. It begins with workshops with senior leaders to address the business objectives. There are internal sessions with staff from all departments. Contributions from clients are sought. The results are condensed into a set of statements:

  •  The purpose which is why you get out of bed in the morning.
  • The promise you are going to make to your customers.
  • The essence, a short phrase that goes to the heart of the business.
  • The attributes which differentiate you from the competition.
  • The personality characteristics associated with your brand – are you fun or sincere, extrovert or demure?
  • The identity, so all your visual and written communications support your brand.

Of course, before any of this is seen by your customers, you need to spread the message internally. I am a big fan of brand ambassadors who are empowered to speak up if anything happens which isn’t compatible with your values. You really have to live what you say you stand for, so all employees can rally behind that.

When your firm can identify and express a clear, tangible and memorable purpose, your staff, customers, investors and even your rivals, will all know you are working towards something really special.