November 20, 2019

Cultivating Purpose

We had a robust discussion about “Start With Why”, the simple but powerful model that Simon Sinek made famous (listen to his TED talk)

I was leading the debate for the cynics by asking why we should start with why. I lost the argument.

Being clear about purpose and values doesn’t drive performance on its own. But it helps you hire and grow people who get what that purpose is about and who you are.  And it helps you dehire them too, which is every bit as important.

We can find “why” difficult to define. You’ve certainly got to start with the ultimate customer benefit – our mission is “changing business leaders’ lives for good”, and it’s definitely part of why we do what we do.  We love it when we see the results people achieve but it’s not an everyday thing – it’s a bit removed from the realities of daily work.

The way I land our “why” is to ask a simple question: “who am I going to help today?” When I ask that at the start of the day the answer could be a client, a team member, the business, someone or something else entirely. The really important point is that it puts the focus on what I’m going to do for someone else. It gets me in the mindset of creating value, of making a contribution, of fulfilling a purpose higher than doing my job, making money, meeting expectations.

Answering the question “who am I going to help today” will also give you the “why”. And the answer to that question is not organisational or high level. To be a source of motivation, it has to be personal and practical. It has to connect you to your organisation via your reason for being here today.

Like so many things about culture, cultivating purpose is about what happens at the bottom of the org chart, not the top.  What is needed from the top is the broad definition of what the organisation is committed to do for the customer, then honouring that commitment in their decisions and behaviours.

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