In the first of this series of articles on igniting your business, we started examining the power of a passionate purpose.
I’ve come to understand there are several levels to understanding your purpose and that of your firm.
The first level is nothing like the 'SMART' goals we’ve learned about.
Most of us are relentlessly driven by tasks, goals and short-term strategies.
Many haven’t learned to mentally engage with something deeper, like a passionate purpose - a concept we can't cross off our to-do list.
But this first level of understanding purpose is like a guiding North Star. A purpose is there to direct us, to inspire change in us, yet not necessarily to be reached.
Once you have a sense of this, then you’re ready to work on what Greg McKeown, in his book Essentialism, calls your 'essential intent'. This intent takes a passionate purpose and makes it concrete and measurable.
For example, McKeown cites lastminute.com founder Baroness Martha Lane Fox, who was appointed to be the UK's first 'digital champion'. Her essential intent was "to get everyone in the UK online by the end of 2012".
Yet you also need to be wary of of being too vague and shallow with this.
Teams become cynical and disinterested when leaders impose vague, inflated statements of mission or purpose.
Bland statements like “maximising shareholder value through service excellence and innovation” lack clarity, motivate nobody and create confusion.
Here, we’re looking at creating a purpose that is meaningful, memorable, measurable and concrete.
A core purpose is there, even if we don’t recognise it. It will have been evolving ever since the business was founded. So it’s not a matter of discovering your purpose, more a case of uncovering it.
The problem is, once we do uncover it, many of us might find our purpose isn't all that inspiring, perhaps not even to ourselves.
One thing is to say is your purpose is not about your products or service.These may change over time, and may even be scrapped or replaced in future.
Your passionate purpose, on the other hand, should be able to guide and inspire you and your team for the next 20 years or more.
Knowing what purpose is - and what it isn't
It’s often said to me that men, traditionally more accustomed to working with logic and metrics, find it difficult to express this kind of thing.
That may be a generalisation, but your purpose is one of those things that must be felt in that way.
I recall a business hero of mine getting this subject completely wrong, even though he had extraordinary vision as a leader.
Over lunch, he said to me: “What would you say is the purpose of a business like ours - in fact, of any business?”
I paused to think.
"Well, I’ll tell you,” he jumped in.“It’s this: to win and retain clients, and to do that at a profit.”
That was it. I wasn’t buying it at all.
Since then, everything I’ve learned about business has taught me my instinct was right.
To say the purpose of business is to make a profit is like saying: “The purpose of life is to breathe in and out.”
Of course, we’d struggle to get through more than a few seconds of life if we didn’t breathe.
But a purpose for our life? Really?
We who lead businesses can do better than that in our thinking. I would go one further: we must do better than that.