The sad fact is that most of the people that work at your company couldn’t care less about it or its success.
If you want to run or be part of an organization that has 93% or better employee engagement (current average is 13% acc. to recent Gallup poll) make sure the leadership thinks about and communicates why the company exists, what purpose it serves, what would be missed if it were no longer around. In other words, they have a Core Purpose.
Core Purpose Examples
Let’s start off with some core purpose examples. These are the reasons why these companies exist.
- Starbucks – Escape to the Third Place (other than home and work)
- WalMart – To be Robin Hood (for customers)
- Medtronic – Extend life by alleviating pain and restoring health
- Catalyst Growth Advisors (my company)- Servanthood: Help business leaders find the greatness they already have but have yet to realize.
How do you find your Core Purpose?
The Core Purpose is the “Why” of your business. There are a few ways to identify it. I have run through an exercise (see example below) with a number of companies to uncover and codify Core Purpose. We almost always start with the “What” when I ask the question “What is your company’s Core Purpose?” but eventually we get to the answer – the “Why”.
Core Purpose discovery process example
Here is a partly fictional example based upon work with a recent client – an IT services company.
Bill – What is the company’s core purpose?
Client – Staff Augmentation
Bill- Why is that important?
Client – Our clients need outside assistance to bridge different technologies that they have acquired over time through growth, acquisition, etc.
Bill – Why does that matter?
Client – Our customers are provided with expertise in certain technologies and platforms for short term projects when they need it without having to hire a full time employee.
Bill – Why is that important to your business?
Client: It saves them money and time in the long term and allows us to hire and train staff that enjoy helping clients solve big problems.
Bill – Why does that matter to you?
Client – Our client is more efficient and we attract employees that want to work in a sophisticated environment and have the freedom of working for a smaller, “family-oriented” business?
Bill – How does that relate to why your company exists?
Client – We want to provide a challenging and stimulating workplace free of the big company bureaucracy, politics, etc.
Bill – Why is creating that type of workplace important to you and the team?
Client – We want to attract employees that are happier working in a smaller company and also enjoy solving challenging business problems. (The original owner worked for large companies and did not enjoy the atmosphere and working conditions)
Bill – Why does that matter?
Client – Having a flexible work environment where the freedom to work autonomously and/or within a group to solve challenging technical problems is highly rewarding.
Bill – It seems that focusing first on creating a flexible, close-knit environment where people are able to delight customers every day is your Core Purpose. Let’s find a succinct way to express that and write it down in our One Page Strategic Plan.
Core Purpose – Create and maintain a people-first, high-impact culture and environment
That was quite a long and winding journey. You can see that it started in a very different place than where it ended up (as most do). However, in the end, after several months and many iterations in this case, it felt right to the owner and the team.
Core Purpose Explained
The Core Purpose typically comes from the owner/founder and is usually the main reason why s/he created the business in the first place. It is inspirational. It may change over time (but rarely does) and usually stems from the early days.
In the case of my client example (a 20+ year old business), it took us several months to narrow this down but in the end we arrived at the main reason why they get up every morning and are excited (on most days) to go to work. Like most cases, the owner needed someone from the outside to help him discover what he already knew but never went through this deliberate process to discover and codify.
Why is Core Purpose important?
Now that is is written down, the CEO can share it with his team and use it when looking for future employees who want to work in a similar environment. It also reminds existing team members that they are part of something that matters.
To many, this process which is one foundational building block of several feels like soft work and most CEOs do not get around to doing it. However, most successful companies that last decades and generations make this a priority and find ways keep their Core Purpose alive in the organization every day.
People want to feel like they are doing something larger than themselves and it is the responsibility of the leader to identify that and keep it alive in the business.
With a 13% employee engagement rate, it is a significant competitive advantage to have Core Values, Purpose, etc. that are written down, shared and kept alive in the organization. Companies that do this well have an 90%+ employee engagement rate, are leaders in their industries and are usually ranked as some of the best places to work.
These are not “soft” in any way as you can see their impact in the most successful companies in the world like Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Walmart and many others. There are actually ways to measure impact.
Measuring your Core Purpose
Here is a great TED talk where core purpose (Called Human Design Impact in the talk) can help us to be more productive as a team. It contains an example of one company (Couchsurfing) that found a way to measure its impact. While they never found a business model that worked, they are a great example of how one company found a way to measure a meaningful impact on the world.
When employees feel part of something larger and can measure its impact, it goes a long way to having engaged and productive employees. Enjoy!
Core Purpose measurement example is 8:25 into the talk. The first 8 minutes are great as well.
I will end with this quote from W. Edwards Deming (eminent scholar, management consultant and teacher) that talks about how to keep Core Purpose alive in your organization. If you are not familiar with him, I encourage you to look him up as he was ahead of his time and his legacy lives on primarily with a management institute that bears his name.
“Establishment of constancy of purpose means acceptance of obligations like the following: a. Innovate. Allocate resources for long-term planning… b. Put resources into: Research and Education c. Constantly improve design of product and service. This obligation never ceases…” – W. Edwards Deming
I look forward to your comments. If you found this post useful, please share with others.