leadership

The puzzle of finding your organisation’s purpose

Michel Hogan /

Why. Why does your organisation exist? Beyond making money, why are the doors open (which everyone needs to do to keep the doors open)?

Without getting into the ins and outs of various kinds of guiding statements, for today let’s just call it purpose. And finding that purpose can be a special kind of puzzle – one with 1000 pieces and lots of blue sky. You can picture what it should look like but getting there is work.

Which brings me to the crux of today’s message: stick with it.

Exploring purpose is not something you want to rush. It’s okay if it takes a while. Some organisations go for years before they put the last pieces in place.

So why is finding your purpose such a fantastic struggle? (With thanks to Dave Curtis for a great alternative to the overused word challenge)

What you care about often isn’t too hard to circle around. However, turning that into something that is both broad enough to be relevant to your organisation over the long term, specific enough to guide you in what to do and not to do, and still inspiring to your fellow puzzlers can feel downright daunting.

Yet, it is important for it to be all three. Simple aspirational statements, while inspiring, rarely hold up over the long term and don’t give the boundaries for what and how that makes the purpose tangible.

A note here – your tagline should not be your purpose statement. “Just Do It” was a tagline, but Nike’s purpose statement is “to experience the emotion of competition, winning, and crushing competitors”. And you won’t find that on their website!

If the purpose is too broad, you risk everything being something you could do and everyone who you do it for – not helpful.

But if the purpose is too specific, you can quickly find that markets and environments have moved on, leaving you and your purpose a puzzle piece short of a picture.

These days Simon Sinek is often credited with putting “why” back in the business conversation. But long before he took to the TedX stage to state that you should “start with why”, the role of purpose in an organisation had been talked about by many people – from the time of Socrates, where his method of questioning was designed to help people test and shape their beliefs, through to bestselling author and management thinker Jim Collins, who talks about purpose as “the organisation’s fundamental reason for being” in the book, Built to Last.

However you think about it and whatever got you started, it’s important you have a purpose because it has long been on the table as a foundation of a strong, resilient organisation and brand.

If you are working on your purpose, you can find a way to solve the purpose puzzle here. If you haven’t started, the dividends of focus and clarity are worth the time you’ll invest so open the box and get started. And if you’ve already finished your purpose, congratulations!

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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