Without Purpose, Your Organization is Rudderless

Thank god for Hollywood and the characters, icons, metaphors and phrases it’s created.

When I tell my clients “Help me, help you. Help ME, Help YOU” they immediately picture Tom Cruise and Jerry McGuire. Sometimes I’m even on my knees imploring them like the scene in the movie just so they get the connection. Sometimes.

But there is another classic I see often in my consultancy work. Often said with the same gravitas as James Earl Jones summons in “Field of Dreams”

“If you build it, they will come”

“If. You. Build. It, They WILL come”

I think we all realize just how empty and dangerously naïve that phrase is in today’s market.

How many websites are never visited? How many applications are never downloaded by anyone other than the family of the developers? How many products go from lauded to landfill without making the barest dent in the lives of consumers?

Within the microcosm of social media there are pages filled to the brim with “conversations” that feel more like desperate cries for attention. In classically deft fashion, Kiwi blogger Mark Di Somma recently highlighted just how misguided some brands actions are in the social space. I think he’s on to something when he suggests that “Consumers and brands have been talking past each other socially”

For my money, many of these failed efforts happen because organizations are looking for love in all the wrong places.

Rather than looking deep within themselves – to their Purpose – they try desperately to ride a trend or co-opt something current and en vogue so as to appear fashionable.

In my book, that’s a guaranteed fail.

So how can you mitigate against that failure?

My admiration for Challenger brands stems from their discipline – and devotion – to a Purpose that isn’t swayed by fashion, trend or whim. They remain focused on the reason their founders began the company to start with.

Red Bull’s focus on “energizing the world” means there’s no incongruity when they hold air races in crowded downtown areas, take free-running from an underground niche past-time into the mainstream or throw a man from outer space in real-time. Or when they open their own travelling music academy to nurture fresh new talent, no-body says “That’s not Red Bull”. More often, the reaction is “Of course. Who else but Red Bull could do that?”

Conversely, a friend recently relayed a story to me that is sadly too familiar. Brought in to create some video assets for a very successful company, she asked the founders “why did you start this company and what makes it special?” Her interest being to vividly bring that Purpose to life. Sadly, they didn’t have an answer to either question. The founders! These are the guys that started the company? Their hope was that she – an outsider – would be able to create this magic with her video camera. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

So how is it that stories like the one above are so prevalent?

Well, what I often hear is that getting to a company’s Purpose is incredibly hard. And is all that hard work really going to make a significant impact on their top or bottomline?

Let me ask if these outcomes aren’t worth the effort.

A more enlightened work-force. One of the central benefits of a well-articulated and well-understood Purpose is that employees know exactly who they work for and what they’re trying to achieve in their daily efforts.

Purpose drives comprehension.

A stronger corporate culture. A Purpose that acts as an aspiration and “true north” for the organization becomes the bedrock of stronger corporate cultures. Ask organizations like Zappos and The Four Seasons about how their Purpose informs their much-admired cultures.

Purpose drives cohesion.

A filtering mechanism for decisions. I’ve been fortunate enough to see organizations use their Purpose to guide decisions as varied as the market sectors they’d enter – or not, the partner and franchisees they’d partner with – or not, and even the types of employees they consider hiring or promoting.

Purpose drives fundamental business choices.

So, for those companies unwilling to invest in defining their Purpose, is not doing the work worth the risk?

Do you think you can still launch new products, attract new investment, stimulate and galvanize your workforce without it?

Is that something you’re prepared to bet the farm on?