A company’s purpose

We are very used to hearing the triad of vision, mission and values. The time has come to reclaim the purpose of companies and the importance of defining it.

by | Oct 23, 2020

We are going to do the exercise of imagining that today we got up very early. We have to go to work and we like to start the day with enthusiasm. We eat breakfast, get dressed, take a shower… and go out to the streets. We start walking, with a minimum of 8 hours ahead of us. The fact is that, at the end of the month, we’ll see that we’ve certainly done a lot of miles. Today is the day we have walked the most and we have done it with firm values, but… why have we done it? What is the purpose that leads us to “walk” one day after another? How should our client identify us if we just walk like everyone else without knowing where we are going?

In this blog we have already talked about the problem that working by inertia represents for many companies, and today we want to add the problem of not even knowing why there is a company to which we dedicate so many hours every day, and that we only want to see grow.

The concept of purpose of a company was discovered/understood by many people through the famous TED video starring Simon Sinek. In this video, of just over 17 minutes, he explains the importance for companies to know their “Why” over their “What”. Demonstrating that you have a credible purpose (a reason why your company exists over that of making a profit), brings commercial value in an increasingly competitive world.

We have been taught on the basis that the objective of the company is to maximize profits, but perhaps we should consider that this fact should be the consequence of applying the company’s purpose in a systematic way.

Does this mean that a company that only focuses on the economic side is doomed to failure? No, but it will be a company with more problems in its engagement with the team and its customers. It will have problems in transmitting what sets it apart from the rest of the companies that do the same, and it will be difficult for its clients to be identified.

There are different exercises to be able to locate the purpose that moves our company. One that we at ST strategy like to do sometimes for some clients is the one called The Obituary, popularized by Marty Neumeier in his book Zag. The exercise consists of imagining that about 20 years have passed and your company has died. You must write the obituary that will be in the newspaper the next day. This exercise helps us visualize the milestones we would like our company to have achieved and what has led the company to reach them.

The purpose of the company is the one that will define its vision, mission and values; and, at the same time, it will initiate the path of the company’s culture, even being the axis of corporate branding. On what aspect is it better to support the company’s image than on the corporate culture itself? According to Andy Milligan and Shaun Smith, in their book “On purpose”, the purpose is already the fifth “P” in marketing – although other authors place it as the sixth, as they have previously included the corresponding to “people”.

We must believe in the purpose, we must work it and we must make it visible in each of our actions.

We must be clear that the company’s purpose must be applied every day. It is not a simple phrase to write into a business plan. It is not about giving an impression while internally we act in the opposite way. Our purpose marks the decisions of our company and defines what policies we have to follow. We need to be faithful to it if we want our clients to identify us afterwards. Nothing will outrage your company’s customers more than discovering that they have been cheated and that the whole corporate culture has been a sham. As Gav Thompson said, “Don’t tell me how funny you are; make me laugh. 

Standing out is not just a matter of good communication. Actions speak louder and clearer than words. This is the line that more and more companies are forced to follow. That’s why they need to know what their customers believe in and what they think. Moreover, it is not only a matter of customers, but also of staff.

Companies want staff who are committed to the company’s “cause”. Company culture is not just a paper to be handed out to new workers, it is increasingly important and it is preferable to look for workers who fit in and then train them, than to try to teach the culture to someone who has not yet fit in.

The time has come, then, to know where we are taking our company, to know what we want it to represent. Inertia is NOT good when we are leading a company. Let’s ask ourselves why we do things, how we are doing them and, above all, let’s be clear about where we want to take our company.