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Why You Need Clarity on Your Core Purpose

Many of the CEOs I work with struggle to find a meaningful sense of purpose for their business. It’s just not a muscle that they’ve used before. Because they have little experience working in purpose-led environments themselves, they haven’t really thought about it. But I can tell you, motivating your staff with purpose can transform your culture. I’ve seen this with my own eyes – it was one of the most powerful factors that helped me scale two tech businesses from zero revenue to £30 million in five years.

COVID-19 has made people rethink everything about their life, and this applies equally to businesses that are currently reviewing the way they work. But there’s a danger that, in reacting to disruption, you might lose your original sense of why your company does what it does. If you get clarity on your authentic core purpose, you will streamline your success to scale faster.

The truth is that businesses with a genuine sense of purpose tend to be more successful. When every employee lives and breathes it, core purpose boosts motivation and happiness at work, and it becomes a north star that guides every decision in your business.

Taking the time to define your company’s core purpose can be transformational – I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Yet, most people exist in business with no purpose. They turn up to work every day, do an ok work and go back home again. They don’t have a sense of loyalty, engagement or joy – what a meaningless way to live your life! 

Defining your business core purpose is likely to be the most important strategic decision you’ll make.

    Why is finding your Core Purpose important?

    Core purpose is not the same as vision, mission or values. It’s a visceral and emotional connection to why you’re doing what you’re doing. Core purpose is about the legacy you want your company to leave and the difference it will make to customers, staff and the world.  

    It drives growth

    When I started as Managing Director at Rackspace, we felt we were on a purpose-led adventure driven by circumstances beyond our control. I joined just before 9/11 in 2001. Hadn’t the attacks happened, the business would have been sold the next day.  But the stock market didn’t open, and the deal didn’t get done. With only three months’ cash left, we defined our purpose as one of ‘Fanatical Support®’. We recognised that our competitors were rarely if ever, exceeding customer service expectations.

    So there we were – a different business that was all about service –free, 24/7, unlimited telephone support. We’d make it easy to get hold of us and guarantee to pick up calls within 3 rings or less. The person who picked up the phone would be a level 3 tech, not an overseas call handler. We also guaranteed 100% network up-time. This was all unheard of. 

    Our core purpose of Fanatical Support became the guiding force of the company. It changed every aspect of what we did. We hired people with a hospitality background. They really got service. We hired for attitude and trained for skill.

    Kid Dressed with Wings

    Our staff would throw themselves on an unexploded bomb for a customer. They’d go looking for that unexploded bomb! Doing an excellent job for their customers gave them great satisfaction and personal joy.

    There’s no doubt that its purpose drove Rackspace’s stratospheric growth. By delivering Fanatical Support®, we massively reduced customer churn. Our existing clients became the primary source of new business and were the reason we grew to £26m in only five years in the UK. 

    It gives emotional connection to why you do what you do

    Purpose is all about emotional connection. It needs to be embraced by all of our team so they can bring it to life. In a conversation with best-selling author, speaker and visionary Daniel Priestly on Mind Your F**king Business Podcast, Daniel gave a great hack for finding your purpose. 

    From the seventeen United Nations sustainable development goals to transform our world. that were launched in 2016 with a 2030 agenda, Daniel suggests picking two, one practical and the other emotional.  At the intersection of these, you will find your purpose. The first will be something that fits with your business – in my case, that’s number 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth –. The second should be something you personally feel strongly about, for example, the number 4, Quality Education.

    A client of ours is an Academy Trust working in deprived areas. They are obviously in the business of education (number 4) but are also passionate about number 10 – Reducing Inequalities. This gives their culture a strong message of inclusion.

    For many business leaders, the purpose of their business is making money, but that won’t resonate with your team. Finding a purpose around leaving a better impact on the world will be far more effective. Properly articulated, this should be felt deeply by your staff, galvanising productivity and engagement. And it will also increase profit.

    It drives retention

    Companies with no clarity around purpose can quickly become dysfunctional, leading to disillusionment amongst their team and high churn rates. I experienced this early on in my career when I worked at M&S. At the time, it was a pretty unhappy place to work. I’ll never forget a poster on the wall that said, “Doing a good job around here is like pissing yourself in a dark suit. You’ll get a warm feeling, but no one else will notice”.

    There was a big clash in purpose between management, who were driven by cutting costs to increase profit and the stores that were driven by customer service.  It felt like something was rotten at the core of the business. Needless to say, I didn’t stick it out for long. I wanted to work for smaller, purpose-led companies and have done so ever since.

    A great example of a purpose-led business was given by one of our guest on Mind Your F**king Business Podcast, Simon Biltcliffe, founder of print services specialist Webmart. His purpose was to bring transparency into B2B print buying and at the same time create a family-like culture to deliver this. Staff share a third of all profits in the business.  He’s capped the number of employees at 50 and writes birthday and Christmas cards to each of them and notes on payslips to say thank you every month. Last year, everyone on the team got bonuses equivalent to their annual salary as it’d been such a good year. As a result, Webmart has fabulously high levels of longevity in its employees.

    An excellent example!

    It helps you make decisions

    Once you have clarity on what’s the motivator that drives your business, it can act as your guide to follow when decisions need to be made, helping you keep on course.

    One of our former clients, Artemis – a digital marketing agency – decided early on that their purpose is to be ‘Champions of Small Businesses’. When their sales teams bring in leads, they would ask the question, ‘Does this new client fit with our overall purpose?’ If they’re a big corporate, even though the account may be lucrative, they would decide not to take them on. Their purpose has become self-fulfilling.

    Also, your purpose can help you make better hiring decisions by recruiting people who share your values. It drove our recruitment at both Rackspace and IT Lab. We deliberately looked for people who loved to serve others.  And this led us to recruit from different industries – hospitality, retail, security – rather than just the IT sector.

    It drives customer loyalty

    Your customers are human too! If everything your company does is focused in some way on a greater good, it will mean your customers will care about you more deeply.  At Rackspace, we believed so wholeheartedly in our purpose that we’d happily fix problems that were outside our terms and conditions. For example, when websites were hacked, we’d put people on it, night and day, to get it fixed even though our t’s and c’s said that security and backup were the clients’ responsibility. We felt, if we delivered great service, the word would spread and customers would spend more. And they did.

    It’s within the control of all companies to define what they’re truly about. As a Business Coach, I urge you to give this proper consideration. It’s the foundation of a successful culture and without it, your company is unlikely to grow to its full potential.

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    If you need help finding and defining your core purpose, you can get clarity around it by joining our next Scaling Up workshop and learn how it can help you scale faster.

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