You have 10 seconds: Describe why you do what you do every day without mentioning money or profit. Describe your purpose in the greater world, not just the world of business.
Many, if not most, business leaders would be hard-pressed to complete that exercise. We’re often much more comfortable describing what we do than we are talking about why we do it. It can be challenging to define your company’s purpose when you’ve been coming to work for years with the sole aim of getting the work done and not centering the greater goals that work could accomplish.
That’s the spot I found myself in five years ago, when I took the first steps toward shifting my company’s business model from profit-first to “purpose-forward” — when I realized we were preaching purpose to our clients without practicing it ourselves. Of course, this realization demanded my colleagues and I take a good, hard look at our company and its place in the purpose-driven businesses landscape.
The poster children of the purpose-driven brand movement include Whole Foods, Blinds.com, The Container Store, and Southwest Airlines. What do they have in common? They either naturally built their brands around a purpose or quickly centered a purpose soon after opening their doors. What about the rest of us? What if you want to shift your established profit-driven business model to a purpose-driven one? How do you balance purpose with years of existing culture, products, services, processes, clients, etc.?
I’ve been there, and as the leader of a company that exists to build strong connections between established businesses and their purposes, I can offer a few insights that will ease your pivot to purpose.
Once you have decided to build your company on a unique purpose, you must:
1. Be Clear About What Purpose Is and What It Is Not
Purpose is not a tagline. It is not a marketing campaign. It is not words on a poster or wall. It doesn’t have to be centered on what you sell, make, or do.
Instead, a purpose is a clear picture of the value your company brings to the world. It’s a way of being. It goes beyond what you do and into who you are. Purpose is the result of an honest look in the mirror and an accounting of what you can accomplish in the world beyond your business. Honesty is key: Your customers, employees, and communities can easily tell the difference between a company that speaks purpose and a company that lives it.
2. Make Your Purpose and Your Brand Inextricable
As your purpose is not a tagline, so your brand is more than just a logo or typeface. Those may be outward manifestations of your company’s persona, but what they really represent is how your organization is different from the rest. Your purpose is part of that difference, and it comes alive in the way your company interacts with people — customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and investors.
Whoever visits your website or comes through your front door should experience your brand and purpose holistically. From the words you use to describe your organization to the way you deliver finished work to clients, you have numerous chances to demonstrate your purpose, values, and behavior. Every touchpoint is an opportunity for your brand to express purpose.
3. Be Ready to Change Your Scorecard
Most if not all of us have learned to equate success with money. I’m not telling you to stop worrying about your finances, and I recognize that profit never stops being important. However, purpose-driven businesses know more money isn’t the only indicator of greater success.
“Changing your scorecard” means shifting focus to other measurable indicators of your business’s health. Are your employees happy? Do they enjoy the work they do? Do they live your values? What’s the ratio of work that serves the company’s purpose to work that helps meet the numbers? How many repeat clients do you have, and what happened with the clients who didn’t return to you? How much of your work comes from referrals? How many raving fans has your business created?
Internal engagement, employee retention, satisfaction conversations with clients, the quality (not quantity) of your sales pipeline: These are all data points you can use to score how your purpose is showing up in your work. While they may not be bottom-line analytics, they are factors that directly affect your bottom line.
4. Learn to Say — and Hear — ‘No’
A few years ago, our company had made significant strides in transitioning from legacy work, mostly in the oil and gas sector, to purpose-oriented projects. Then energy prices crashed, and our revenues dropped almost 30 percent. This was when our commitment to a purpose-driven strategy faced its biggest test. We stayed committed to moving forward with our focus on purpose work, and though we had to diversify our strategy and accept some work that wasn’t the perfect fit for us, we didn’t forget our overall direction and goals. What may look like a step back can, in actuality, be an opportunity to recommit to your purpose.
Just as you need to learn to say “no” when the fit isn’t right, you need to get used to hearing it from prospective clients, partners, and even employees. Those “no” answers are valuable indicators of whether the two parties would have worked well together. Whether you’re saying it or hearing it, it is important to remember that a “no” from either side will clear the way for work that is more aligned with your values and overall goals.
These are a few of the things I learned as we developed and implemented our purpose at Savage Brands: helping companies deliver on their purposes in order to revolutionize corporate America.
Many companies will find their purposes are already there, just waiting to be discovered — and the same likely goes for your organization. Your purpose is in the way you do business, in the types of businesses you work with, and in the people you hire and the behaviors they exhibit. Finding and defining that purpose is just the first step. After that, you have to walk it, talk it, and live it every single day.
Bethany Andell is CEO of Savage Brands and author of Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line … and Build Your Brand on Purpose.