"For Purpose" or "Not For Purpose"? That is the Question.

“Brooks, we’re going to make so much money together, buddy!”

This is what the CEO of our newly created entity exclaimed to me on a warm spring night while sipping an expensive craft beer atop a rooftop bar overlooking the Charlotte, NC, skyline.

For some reason, that statement really struck a nerve with me.

Maybe it was because I liked to focus the last few hours of my day on personal and professional development, and was reminded about the time that I was sacrificing to be here.

Perhaps it was because he was drinking a $12 bottle of beer while a majority of the world was starving to death. (Sorry, the inner hippie in me just came out).

Ultimately, I realized that the purpose we had set forth was not consistent with the type of value that I wanted to create with, and for, others.   

Without skipping a beat, I quickly responded, “Yes, I hear you, and that’s awesome. To be candid, I care more about creating something remarkable together and genuinely serving the community. The money will be a byproduct of our service. Whose lives are we going to make better as a result of our existence?”

He looked puzzled and the conversation quickly tapered off. Most of our group had worked together in a previous life and they clamored about the “good ol’ days.” They excitedly made plans about how big we were going to grow and what they would do with their newfound wealth. I stood there knowing that as badly as I wanted to fit in; this square peg was not going into a round hole. Our values just weren’t congruent.

The Elusive Red Goldfish

It’s easy to get “cause marketing,” and the overall new wave of philanthropic infused business models confused. The newest book to emerge from the Purple Goldfish platform is entitled, Red Goldfish, written by my colleagues, Stan Phelps and Graeme Newell, and it argues that all businesses must choose to be “for purpose” or “not for purpose” in 2016 and moving forward.

The most common problem that I see is entities treating “purpose” as though it’s a campaign or integrating this aspect because they’re “supposed to” or because “everyone else is doing it.” The end result is an effort that typically comes across as contrived, and ultimately, chock-full of lackluster results.

Let me be clear, profit should be a primary goal in business. Without properly stewarding over your finances and investment, you’ll never have the ability to create more opportunity for others. My argument is that entities must begin, or reinvent themselves, with the end result in mind.

In essence, businesses must ask, “Whose lives are we looking to positively change, and how are we going to make the world a better place?”

Enter “For Purpose” Entities

As I just mentioned, companies seem to align with a different cause and are all out to make a positive difference in the world virtually everywhere you look now. While all of this action is wonderful to see, I came up with five keys based on my failures, overall experience, and copious amounts of research to create and sustain meaningful “for purpose” entities.

1. Start with an idea.

John Rivers of 4 Rivers Smokehouse didn’t set out to create Florida’s largest barbecue chain. John cooked his now world famous brisket to serve his community, raise money for those in need locally, and to gently evangelize.

At the root of it all, John lives out his vocational purpose. He acted on an idea which begets excitement which begets passion which begets purpose. When you have a joyful heart toward your cause you’ll always take massive action, and this all comes as a result of being led by the right idea.

2. Be inclusive.

Too often entities want to make their impact all about them. You’ve seen it time and time again when entities make proclamations in their communications to say, “See, look at what we did for all of these people and how awesome we are.” They’ve made it all about them and how great they are.

They talk about what their vision is and how they are going to accomplish their goals. But what about the people that they serve? What about their employees and the people that want to help? Everyone wants something to believe in. Are you giving them the opportunity to be a part of your movement and inviting them to do so?  

3. Intentionally permeate your purpose-driven culture. 

One of the largest disconnects with purpose are the personal connections to the stories about the end results. So what can you do about it?

I highly recommend creating internal and external communications that celebrate how your employees, customers, and community align with your purpose. Take the time to celebrate the instances where your purpose has manifested as often as possible. Hang up pictures or post them on your website to tell the stories of the people that you have helped by living out your purpose. The possibilities here are endless.

4. Lose yourself in service. 

Too many entities focus on the outcomes in the form of a P&L and financial statements when they need to be focusing on a few strategic inputs. My suggestion is to garner that focus on a few customer impact measures, i.e. what are the few activities that we can take scalable action on that drive our customer’s overall experience and the top-line?

The biggest disconnect that I see is the inability to correlate the right measures of service to profitability. Therein lies the key to truly losing yourself in service to others and the commitment to become a servant leader.

5. Say what you mean and execute.

Have you ever seen a speaker that looked the part, put on an excellent presentation, and said all of the right things but you just couldn’t bring yourself to trust them? Something about them just made you think that they are going to jump off stage and engage with the superficial (and typically illicit) pleasures that money buys.

Amy Cuddy of the Harvard Business School has argued that our primitive brain immediately evaluates every person that we meet by asking two questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “How strong and competent is this person?”

Competence is the key word in those questions. Your employees, customers, and community are all counting on you to follow through with what you say you’re going to do. The second you start making successions; you’ll have broken trust and will create a slippery slope of incompetence.

The unfortunate part that is never addressed is that no one wants to deal with confrontation head on and call out your incongruence.

Instead, your employees will talk after hours over drinks and let their discontent fester. Your customers will leave without saying a word because they don’t care about you. And the community will talk behind closed doors about how they don’t support you. Before you know it, you’re out of business and feeling empty inside.

If you make bold promises, stick to them no matter what. Your word is your bond.

Et Tu, Brute?

Will you be one of the “for purpose” or “not for purpose” entities moving forward? Either choice is completely acceptable and I hope that you don’t choose the “for purpose” angle just because everyone else is doing it or that you want to look good in the eyes of others.

Personally, I look forward to the day when I’m able to turn to a group of young men and women to cast vision and make a statement very similar to this one:

We’re going to develop 100 million transformational leaders together. As a result, we’ll be able to take care of our families and create amazing experiences with people that we love and care about.

…Oh yeah, and we’ll make some money too as a result.

The Foolproof Method to Uncover Corporate Purpose and Ignite Your Team's Passion

It brought me to tears often.

It was only one simple word: significance. Yes, our new business had made our “corporate purpose” revolve around just one word, and yet almost none of the 107 employees could recite this one word without being prompted.

I thought that we had checked every box off of our operational checklists, and done everything right as we started our new venture. Not only did we have the tangible tasks completed, but we had also taken the time to intentionally develop a culture that served both our customers and our team.

Every single day, I would ask the team members the same question, “Why do we exist? What is our purpose as a business?” The answers were varied, but again, virtually no one could succinctly answer the question.

At first I foolishly blamed the team. I often thought to myself in a childish manner, “What kind of dope can’t remember a one word answer?” My initial gut reaction, of course, was not correct nor fair to the team.

I knew that frustration would not get us closer to our goal, and I began to take the disconnect to heart…

I felt like a total failure for developing the culture that did not understand what it stood for.

It wasn’t until I made the revelation that although the culture’s purpose was simple and strictly defined; it was the team that was missing purpose in their work.

It didn’t matter what our leadership had written on a piece of paper, and was preaching to the company. Without the employees having conviction and feeling meaning in their work, there was no way that they were going to buy into the purpose that was constructed in a corporate boardroom.

You might be thinking that a lot of companies have a “corporate purpose” though…

I would tend to agree, but what percentage of employees actually know what this statement means? More importantly, how many employees actually live these words with all of their heart, spirit, mind, and action?

I would venture to say that corporate purposes fail to work for two predominant reasons, which are as follows:

  1. They’re too complicated.
  2. Employees don’t feel purpose in their contributions, and don’t align with the company.

Let’s start with that first point. Oftentimes, corporate boardrooms form these statements and “purpose-driven” cultures because “it’s the right thing to do” or “it’s good for business.”

The problem is that they turn their corporate purpose into more of a slogan, a contrived attempt at garnering employee buy-in, jam pack the statement with every buzzword, and/or all of the above.

The repercussions of not having a clear, easy to understand purpose in business is just as bad, if not worse, than not having one at all.

If the team doesn’t understand why the entity exists, then how can the people that you serve possibly know? On top of that, how can your customers excitedly share your business’ story with their network? 

How does one uncover corporate purpose?

I believe that you only have to answer one question: how do you improve the lives of the people that you serve? There are other questions that you can ask. However, it all starts and ends there. Once you have an exact statement that answers that question, the rest becomes much easier to develop.

The other reason for lackluster results with corporate purpose are employees that don’t have personal purpose in their work that aligns with the company. Call it purpose, meaning, or whatever else but it’s the fuel for all of the other positive qualitative factors.

Without purpose, a career quickly becomes the dreaded “job.” The position becomes all about the individual, and the employee demands to know how their employer can service their needs in the form of education, compensation, and stature.

If you think about it, solely profit-driven companies are only looking to leverage its employees for its shareholder returns, and the employee treats the company in the exact same way.

…How do we do help our people uncover more purpose?

I’ve read just about book, listened to every podcast, and watched every video on this topic. I’ve disseminated all of this information, and applied these principles using my life as the guinea pig. This is how I discovered the BASIC framework which is as follows:

Baseline– Notate what is providing and taking energy, and formulate a system for measurement and awareness. (I recommend physically writing everything down in a pocket-sized notebook, and translating it to Evernote).

Assessment Proactively become more self-aware by asking everyone in your network hard questions about your work, and identifying trends in your vocation. 

Strengthen Steward over your relationships, thoughts, behaviors, and actions to identify and focus on positives.

Intentionality Envision the perfect work day, and strategically add little positive behaviors to make daily progress toward that vision. 

Commitment Go “all in” with your current job, lose yourself in service to others, and assume or align with the corporate purpose.

Ultimately, when your people uncover more purpose that was divinely created for them in their work, they’ll either align with the larger corporate purpose, or strengthen the corporate purpose with their own.

This is all good and well, but you’re about tangible results on your P&L, right?

The fact is that purpose-driven businesses are more productive, generate higher sales, keep employees longer, and are more profitable. Entities such as Deloitte, Gallup, and Millward Brown have provided copious amounts of data that state “for purpose” businesses are beating the pants off of strictly profit driven companies. 

Millward Brown summarized this concept best when they said, “Our 10-year growth study that reviewed over 50,000 brands showed that companies who put improving people’s lives at the center of all they do have growth rates that are triple that of their competitors, and they outperform the market by 383 percent.”

Did you get that? You have the opportunity right now to outperform the market by 383 percent by just doing right by your people. Or you can choose to get tears in your eyes when people can’t remember one word.

Speaking from experience, a system of purpose a lot more fun and profitable.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Check out this brief clip from Advisory Board which shows how their deeper purpose applies to their people, and the communities that they serve.