It’s easy to think of what your brand is there to do (purpose) and how your business intends to prosper (strategy) as separate things, different agendas. But more and more brands are looking at ways to bring these two ideas together: building and focusing their business around the wider impacts they intend to have.
One of the immediate benefits of such an approach is that it gives decision makers a fresh perspective and a completely different reporting framework. By concentrating on the biggest things you want to change through your purpose, you can build a brand that instinctively seeks out fresh paths. A purposeful culture is hard-wired to look for impacts beyond its own organisational borders, enabling the brand to consistently and effectively look out into the world and judge its progress not just on what it reports to but also what it sees happening more universally.
A different mandate
When you build your brand’s business strategy around your purpose, you mandate a company that participates in the world in order to change it, not just one that competes in its own space for its own ends.
Because purpose is all about changing the world for the better, it needs to be at the apex of the decision tree, so that everyone has line of sight to why they are doing what they are doing. The key to doing this well is have the business strategy report to the purpose not the other way round, and to make the purpose the focus of differentiation and change.
Start with a business case for why you want to be purposeful. You need to be clear in your own minds about how and why pursuing that end goal will enable you to thrive as a competitive brand. That way, no-one can accuse you of having a highest goal that is impractical and esoteric. I like statements like this: “Our greatest goal as a business is to [purpose] because [why?]. To achieve that goal we will change how we compete [in the following ways] and focus our culture on [specific things]. We will measure our progress on [key metrics].”
Do this right, and you can actually hard-wire innovation into your culture by encouraging everyone to think about what the business could be doing to move closer to its purpose (and therefore what the business could be doing better generally).
Measurement is important because it keeps the purpose real and holds the business strategy and the brand outcomes directly accountable.
Measures matter. Without them, a purpose can rapidly become conceptual – talked about frequently, referred to by everyone as a nice-to-have but not insisted on as a true measure of what is being achieved. Tying purpose to the business metrics is straight-forward. Evaluate every decision honestly in terms of whether it is in keeping with your purpose. And report your progress towards your purpose through your measurement frameworks.
Purpose as a tool for management
Five questions that every senior management team should be asking:
- How did the purpose influence the key decisions we made this month?
- How will those decisions tangibly move us towards our purpose?
- How do our new decisions build on the initiatives we already have in place to achieve our purpose?
- What measures have we put in place for these decisions to define progress towards our purpose over the months ahead?
- What decisions did we reject (or send back for re-evaluation) because they didn’t fit with our purpose?
When you stop managing your brand only for adherence to standards and start managing your brand for its wider alignment with, and contribution to, bigger goals, the questions get harder and the scrutiny becomes deeper, but the effectiveness also leaps – because no-one gets distracted by shiny bright objects or blithely reacts to what the competitors are doing.
In a world filled with complication and stacks and stacks of decisions and dependencies, the pursuit of purpose adds welcome simplicity and clarity. Purpose can focus and shape strategy at every level by giving everyone a clear end goal for what is decided and what is done. It introduces a new sense of deliberateness to decisions that management teams come to welcome (usually after some initial hesitancy about whether this approach is too simple).
Perhaps most welcome of all for those charged with operational efficiency, the business instigates purposeful projects rather than simply allowing initiatives to procreate without focus or integration, because everyone evaluates decisions not just on whether they are on-brand but also whether they are on-purpose.