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Executive Voice

Purpose-Driven Strategy by Kevin Ou

If you want employees who are more engaged and productive, give them a purpose. A purpose that is concretely aligned with your product, customers, and strategy.

Many people (not just Millennials) are starting to place priority on jobs that are not solely about a paycheck. Many desire to work for organizations whose missions and business philosophies resonate with them intellectually and emotionally. What fundamentally drives most employees boils down to genuinely making a positive difference in other people’s lives.

We’re fortunate to have a growth expert, Kevin Ou, who has experience scaling special projects with Google, Nike, Airbnb, and Samsung, among many others. With a personal philosophy on quick but sustainable growth, we look to Kevin for inspiration for necessary ideas companies need to adopt.
How do you help companies grow?

For many, the key motivator is a greater sense of purpose. Even more shockingly, more than 70% of those surveyed say they’re not even “somewhat” passionate about their jobs. If organizations want to inspire their workers, they must clearly communicate why they’re in business and what value they provide. When employees understand and embrace those things, their companies thrive: Survey results show that more than 90% of companies with a well-defined purpose deliver growth and profits at or above the industry average.

Although the idea of a company guided by purpose is simple to understand, it is very tricky to turn into reality. The sad truth is that many leaders often lack the vision to define, much less live, their purpose. Organization purpose is often an after-thought—a marketing gimmick to create shared value, improve employee morale and commitment, give back to the community, and help the environment.

What can organizational purpose do for a company?

First and foremost, the purpose of an organization must be genuine and not merely just a marketing tactic.

Genuine organizational purpose holds great potential to inspire. More and more employees consider it more important than traditional motivators such as compensation and career advancement.

You can very often find very vanilla purpose statements such as “being the company of choice” and “maximizing shareholder value.” As much as you may try to motivate employees with slogans or extrinsic rewards, you won’t achieve excellence if your people don’t know why they are coming to work every day at your firm.

When leaders organize the company around purpose statements like these, it often misses the heart of what drives a successful business. It’s hard to imagine how employees can shine if they don’t understand your company’s purpose.

We’ve all seen companies that seem to flourish effortlessly. Companies that have a certain “it” factor, energy, enthusiasm, and passion that lights up their employees. They delight customers and attract investors. It’s not just the company’s “better” products, softer materials, or even its cutting-edge technology. And it’s so much more than just a mission statement. It boils down to purpose.

Out of the many things a company needs to invest in, why should they invest it in organizational purpose?

Purpose is the key to motivation—and motivated employees are the key to realizing your purpose. Get this symbiotic relationship right, and your organization will thrive. Many high-growth companies use purpose to stay relevant in a fast-changing world.

Focusing on underlying human needs, rather than on the products and services you offer to address them, is critical when defining a corporate purpose.

Whose responsibility is it to create organizational purpose?

A company’s board has an increasingly important role to play in holding management accountable and a greater fiduciary responsibility to attend to a company’s purpose and its ability to live it.

Company Management and boards should be asking tough questions internally. Here are some questions that I like:

  • If we were to put our purpose statement alongside a competitor’s, could our employees identify which one was ours?
  • If we polled employees, how many could say what our purpose is?
  • Do our employees have the resources required to deliver on our promises to customers?
  • Why does our organization exist?
  • Who are we serving?
  • What would the world lose if your company disappeared?
  • What value do we offer
  • Why are we uniquely capable of providing it?

When you question the status quo, you will soon discover your staff, partners, and customers’ true understanding of why the company exists. If you get 20 different answers from 20 different people, you should pause and consider.

If the answers you hear are lethargic, a shrug, a ‘don’t know – don’t care, it is possible there are leadership and communication issues.

If your passion is strong and your purpose clear but your staff, vendors, and customers do not reflect the same, it will become a barrier to revenue growth.

It seems easy enough on paper to say a company has a purpose, what can an organization do to keep it sustainable?

The idea of a powerful purpose alone is not enough; organizations must also deliver on their promises to customers and their employees.

This requires putting the right people in the right roles, breaking down traditional departmental silos to facilitate cross-functional collaboration, investing in the areas that matter most, and ensuring that leaders demonstrate every day, through their words and actions, their commitment to the organization’s goals.

Purpose should be employed in a systematic process, but also emotional at the same time. The genuine purpose should resonate with members of your organization and inform their decision-making.

The 5P elements are critical:

  1. Product (and portfolio) Strategy
  2. People and culture
  3. Processes and systems
  4. Performance metrics
  5. Positions and engagement

Sustainable organizational purpose puts an emphasis on leadership. Move too fast, and you will be criticized for reaching too far. Move too slowly, and you will be viewed as a hurdle to growth. However, the most dangerous of all is if you claim to be delivering on purpose but are ultimately viewed as inauthentic, you will lose credibility in front of your employees and customers alike.

There are dozens of ways to identify your company’s why, but the most important thing is to get started. Discovering your company’s purpose will transform the day-to-day by bringing meaning into the workplace.

High-growth companies approach this differently and move purpose from the periphery of their strategy to its core.

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