Here are three rules for uncovering your purpose, as well as a real-life example of how these rules work. After all, relentless communication doesn’t help if you don’t have a properly constructed purpose.
An effective purpose must be noble, one that can inspire and motivate, something uplifting, that makes people feel good about doing it. And "we sell widgets" just doesn’t do it.
Your purpose captures the essence your company's existence. It answers the question, "Why does our company exist?" So it must be something more than just making money.
Keep in mind that smaller units within the company, like divisions and departments, often need a purpose, one that feeds into the larger company purpose. But how do you arrive at the purpose?
First, concentrate on results, not activities. Too often we describe what we do, or how well we do it. You know, "To provide the best service to our customers." Instead we must look at what results from that service, and how those results affect the customer.
Second, focus on the customer. Everything we do, and the core of our existence, is all about the customer. It's never about you, or your employees. It's about the customer. Here we look at our product or service from the perspective of the customer.
Third, keep it simple. It's got to be easily memorized, and not confusing. My rule is 12 words or fewer. Don't clutter it up with unnecessary words. Your purpose should be, as the Irish say, short and sweet like a hare's gallop.
One of the best questions to use when trying to arrive at your purpose, especially when you run into ideas that don’t relate to the customer or the results for the customer, is "so what?"
For example, a few years ago I was helping W.B. Steward & Son identify its purpose. When I asked what the purpose was, the senior team responded with what the company does—deliver oil, service heating and cooling equipment, etc. "So what?"
Then they talked about their quality products, and their employees' reliability and professionalism. I said, "So what?" At this point, the senior team was getting a little frustrated, but I was trying to focus them not on what they do, but what the customer gets out of it.
Finally, Don Steward, Jr., the current president, said, "When they flip the switch in the winter, they want to be warm; in the summer, they want to be cool." Now we were making progress, because we were looking at what the CUSTOMER gets from their service.
And, by the way, they were right. I've run into many of their customers, who always rave about the reliability and professionalism of W.B. Steward & Son. So they were on the right track.
Eventually, Don came up with a purpose that really does capture the essence of W.B. Steward & Son's purpose: "Providing our customers heating and cooling comfort." It's focused on results, and on the customer, and it's simple.
How well does your company, department, or team purpose stand up to these three rules? Do you even have a purpose?