Why Purpose First

‍According to the Wharton School of Business* the five fundamentals of business are finance, marketing, strategic planning, leadership and the understanding of culture (for international businesses). This article isn’t about arguing against any of these five fundamental aspects but understanding why you want to start a business or why you’re in the business you’re in, which—I believe—is even more fundamental. And knowing your company’s purpose is more crucial.

Now you might be thinking, “How is purpose different than a company’s vision?” Purpose is founded on a passion. For instance, CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk’s passion is exploring possibilities. He has owned three companies, and all three have had different visions based on that purpose. With PayPal, he explored and then created a system to exchange money over the internet. With Tesla, he explored then created a electric car that was as fun and sexy as a Porsche. And finally, with SpaceX he’s exploring the possibilities of people living on other planets. Corporate vision statements change based on the task at hand, challenge they face at the time, or a strategic shift to stay viable.

Finding and clearly defining your purpose can be difficult because of the daily tasks that need our immediate attention. I work with business owners, CEOs, and company presidents every day. The first question I ask is, why are you in business? Or why did you start the business? What is it about your job that gets you really excited? What gets you out of bed in the morning? One telltale sign you’ve found your passion is when you tell yourself you can’t imagine doing anything else. I call this your purpose. Your purpose drives you and, in turn, will drive your business and sustain you through all the ups and downs that come with it.

The reasons I mentioned above are all directed toward the person driving the bus and not necessarily a corporate purpose. The answers may be more personal to the CEO; however, the best CEOs have a congruent purpose with that of the business as a whole. Let’s look at some concrete measurable business reasons why a business or CEO should take the time to clearly define and build their brand on its purpose.

In Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, chapter three talks about the importance of securing high-quality, high-talent individuals first in order a company to be successful. He calls it “getting the right people on the bus.” So, how will you be able to find the “right” people if you don’t know what your purpose is? The right people are those that believe what you believe. They have the same purpose — when it comes to moving the company forward in the right direction. Look for potential employees who are excited about the company’s purpose. Even if they lack the experience, the skills of the specific job can be learned. Passion and purpose can not. Those employees will work with blood, sweat, and tears, not just for a paycheck.

If a company doesn’t have its purpose defined, it’s difficult to determine if the company should embrace a new technology or change course by dropping a tried and true process. When you can see the connection between a business decision and fulfilling or not fulfilling the company’s purpose, the decision-making process becomes easier. Similarly, when business opportunities arise, it is easier to embrace or decline that opportunity based on whether or not it aligns with the company’s purpose.

Brands that are built on their purpose can move into different markets and industries with ease if so desired. This is something that is typically not recommended for companies to do. Strong brands with a rock-solid purpose can do this. For example, consumers purchase music, movies, and phones from a computer company. From its inception, Apple never identified itself as only a computer company. It first identified itself as a company that did things differently. Apple builds electronic devices and the software to run the device that is often described as magical.

New products and services, when they align with your purpose, do not confuse the consumer because it’s seen as furthering your purpose. The new product or service adds to the ecosystem of your offerings. Apple has had only one simple brand realignment in its history. In January of 2007, Apple dropped “Computer” from its name.

Once the purpose is clearly defined, it must be made plain and visible for the company, its employees, all its stakeholders, and its customers to see in every interaction with the company. The brand needs to align with the company’s purpose. It should be evident in everything from the company’s name to the language and tone of customer service. Some may ask “Do you really need to continue to rehearse the purpose?” Because there is power in communicating that message daily. Coke still advertises even though almost everyone on the planet already knows Coca-Cola. That’s because Coca-Cola knows the power of keeping their reason for existence, their purpose, in front of you. Companies (even those not B2C) need to communicate their purpose at every turn — keeping “the why” front and center.

* http://www.businessinsider.com/5-business-fundamentals-learned-at-wharton-2011-9