What’s Your Organization’s Rallying Cry?

Originally posted on Triple Pundit.


Establishing and operating from an anchor of a “living purpose” creates a distinct competitive advantage for companies and a mechanism to engage your stakeholders. For example, customers who are aligned with a company’s brand values deliver twice the share of wallet (47%) as customers who aren’t aligned with that same brand (23%) .

Articulating an inspiring, overarching purpose statement is an important first step in helping your purpose take hold. While it’s not enough on its own, it can be the connective tissue or jumping off point to clarify and integrate your organization’s values, cultural norms, and long-term strategy.

A stated purpose is a means to demonstrate your commitment to long-term value as well as short-term results. It ignites the passion in your people and engages your top talent, so they stay, grow, and thrive with you. And it can lead to innovations that will help you stay competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Some companies choose to encompass purpose in their mission statements, others in their vision statements. What’s important is that you get at “the essence” of who you are and why you do what you do. BCG’s BrightHouse says: Mission is your what. Vision is your where. Purpose is your why.

Based on my work with CEOs and senior teams, here are five steps to help organizations through the process, including questions to reflect on along the way.

1) Start External

You won’t get there by working with your senior team alone. Capture the power of your company’s narrative as experienced through the eyes of your stakeholders. Customers, employees, and suppliers will all offer important insights on the distinct value you bring.

List the people and the groups that matter to you and to your business. Determine who matters most to you and then find out what matters most to them.

Three Questions:

  •        What do our customers value about our organization?

  •        How would our employees describe working at our company?

  •        How would our partners describe our company to others?

2) Look Inside Yourself

To be a steward for your company you first must become conscious of your own purpose. This phase of the process is introspective. It’s about finding the connections between your head and heart that will then connect to the purpose of the business. Examine what is most important to you and your senior team. Discuss each of your own personal narratives and the legacy you hope you’re building. Reflect on how you want to shape your future path.

An inspirational company purpose is always linked to a leader’s overall ambition of who they want to be as a person and how they hope to be remembered in the future.

Three Questions:

  •        What am I passionate about that I want to leave as my legacy as a leader?

  •        Why am I in this business, and what am I trying to build?

  •        What people do I deeply admire and why? How would I describe their purpose?

3) Find Your Noble Cause

This is the stage where you link external and internal to pinpoint your company’s single, overarching purpose. A purpose answers the “why” question and links vision, mission, strategy, values, and culture. It’s the organization’s single underlying objective that unifies all stakeholders and embodies its ultimate role in the world.

Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard said way back in 1960, “I want to discuss why a company exists in the first place. In other words, why are we here? I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being.”

Three Questions:

  •        What do we want to be known for?

  •        What is it that we can do for the world that other companies can’t?

  •        If we are successful, who will benefit and how?

Sample Statements of Purpose:

Ikea: To create a better everyday life for the many people.

Ingram Micro: Realizing the power of technology.

Masonite: We help people walk through walls.

SAP: To help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

Sephora: We inspire fearlessness.

Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup

and one neighborhood at a time.

Visa: We strive to be the best way to pay and be paid, for everyone, Everywhere.

4) Write It

You have a wealth of thinking behind your purpose. Now turn it into a statement that will be the broader framework for the actions you will take. It’s how your purpose will be expressed. My recommendation is that you put down every word or phrase you can think of. Then begin to boil these words and phrases down to what fits best, ultimately picking a single phrase that strikes at the heart of who you are.

Fewer, bolder words are often better and more memorable. Make the statement aspirational. You want to engage people’s emotions and unlock their imaginations.

Three questions:

  •        Is the statement short and easily repeatable?

  •        Could any other company say this?

  •        Will it inspire and engage your stakeholders?

5) Test and Experiment

Finally, you’ll need to make sure the statement is clear and compelling to people across your entire value chain. Circle back to show your stakeholders what you have developed to see how it resonates. Be willing to fine tune based on what you learn. And then you can begin the work of linking everything you do back to this purpose statement and helping it take hold.

Three Questions:

  •        Are people rallying around it and talking about it?

  •        Does it make people proud to be a part of your company?

  •        Can employees clearly connect their work to this statement?

Stating and communicating your purpose is an important step forward. It will help your employees find more meaning and energy around their work. It gives you a tool to engage your customers and build more trust with them. And you will drive financial value through new partnerships, products, and services you uncover along the way, building and strengthening your organization to do even more.

Image credit: Chris McClanahan/Flickr

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3 Questions Executives Should Ask Front-Line Workers

Written for the Harvard Business Review.

The higher up you go in an organization, the harder it is to stay in touch with what’s really happening on the front lines.  And the bad news—if you hear it at all—is presented only in the best possible light.  How do you get the real truth about what’s happening out in the field?  How do you stay connected to all corners of your organization?  I have found that three simple questions, asked with the intent to learn, can help you stay in touch with reality and be a better leader:

Get out of your office and ask, “How can I help you?”

Doug Conant, while he was CEO of Campbell Soup Company, knew that if he was going to transform the company culture, he had to ask the simple question, “How can I help you?” He asked it continually of his employees, his suppliers, and his customers—and he demanded that each of his managers do the same too. Conant knew that as a leader he needed to show he cared about the employees’ and customers’ agendas if he wanted them to care about the company’s agenda. With this one question, people knew that Conant cared, had high expectations, and was committed to solving problems, adding resources, and removing barriers.  Through literally thousands of these connections with people, Conant was able to stay in touch, build confidence, motivate, and create urgency for transforming Campbell Soup.  He reversed precipitous declines in market value, employee engagement, financial results, and corporate responsibility.

Get out on the front lines and ask, “Why are we doing it this way?”

Mark McKenzie, the CEO of Senior Care Centers, a large skilled nursing company in Texas, often asks, “Why are we doing it this way?” He asks to learn, not to criticize. He knows that as the company grows, which it is doing rapidly, it will need new systems and new structures, and all of these need to be aligned with delivering outstanding patient care. McKenzie is building a culture of asking “why” and getting everyone engaged in the joy of being heard, seeing things change, and measuring progress.

Get out to your farthest perimeters and ask the question, “How are we doing in living out our values?”   

Stanley Bergman, the CEO of Henry Schein, a $10 billion global medical supply company, visits each company office at least once per year in every part of the globe. He meets with the country leaders and the product teams. Yes, he has great financial controls and excellent budget targets for each country and each product line but, as he says, the most important reason to visit is connecting with the people. In each office he visits, he makes sure he and his top people reach out to every person in the building. No one is left out. The questions he asks them are about values and how they are being demonstrated. He might ask a salesperson, “Are we living into our values as a company in ways that support you?” He wants the truth and he has established a reputation as someone who listens—and takes action based on what he hears. He continually relates the story of what Henry Schein is doing and will do, and he’s tireless in his commitment to show that each individual is a valued contributor to “Team Schein.” His entire message is, “I want to be certain you are getting everything you need to do your job well, and that we show you respect all along the way.”

Three questions, three stories. Each one puts you in closer touch with reality, builds trust, and inspires high performance.  Each time you ask these questions, you’re also acting as a role model for others in your organization.  Being present, asking the right questions, and listening to what your customers, employees, suppliers, and investors have to tell you creates an invaluable feedback loop for your performance as a leader and for the organization as a whole.  Do it consistently and others will follow with astounding results.

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