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Sunday, 27 January 2019

Can You Define the Purpose of Your Business? It Answers the “Where Are We Going?” Question!

Some years ago I attended a meeting in London to hear Theodore Levitt, the renowned Professor of marketing at Harvard, and apart from being totally inspired, I came away with a little mantra that I have used on many occasions since.

It is: if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there.

Coincidentally I recently discovered a version of the same mantra which goes like this:

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable". (Lucius   Antaeus Seneca (4BCE-65CE) Roman stoic philosopher).  There is nothing new under the sun!

In both cases, of course, it is a matter of purpose, not objectives.  Accountants love objectives because they are easily monitored, easily measured and as a consequence can be used for praise or, rather more frequently, for  reprimand.

The definition of purpose is more intangible. Purpose has to have a base line of stated shared values that are immutable and that are based on moral, social, socio-political, environmental and other criteria whereas objectives are, more often than not, financial.

I am an avid collector of maxims and another that I like is:
People need to know two things. How am I doing and where are WE going?.

Leadership is all about the people and their needs (obviously) so that they are kept aware of their personal progress and that of the business, compared to the stated values of the organisation.

Because we are dealing with human beings the “How am I doing?” question is intensely personal and needs to be treated as such via regular and confidential one-to-ones.

The great Dan Pink in his YouTube animations and his book “Drive”, examines more deeply the factors and the environment that motivate people to perform at their best, simply stated as follows

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

People need to be given freedom and the autonomy to undertake their role in the best way possible and hence with the most satisfactory outcome.

That freedom to make decisions rather than wait to be told what to do and how to do it results in enhancement of the ability to perform and consequently in improved mastery of the task or subject.

Overall it needs to be achieved  with a sense of purpose that has been constantly instilled and has become the cultural centrepiece of the business.

It is all a matter of at what level the leadership is prepared to trust the people, how far will they go in paying them the respect of accepting and welcoming their abilities and desires and to what extent is all of that recognised and in some way rewarded.

The key to it all is the stated purpose of the business. If that is to generate as much money as possible for the stakeholders then that will be reflected in the culture of the business.

Equally if the stated purpose is, for example, to distribute any profits in such a way as to help solve a social problem then the perceived culture will reflect that decision.

That sense of purpose must be at the forefront of everything we do, of how we relate to our people and the world at large, of the values that we espouse and the way that we project ourselves in general.

Question: Does your business have a stated purpose and, if so, are you proud of it?  More than that, are your people proud of it?


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