Peter Drucker stated that ”the best and most dedicated people are ultimately volunteers, for they have the opportunity to do something else with their lives.”
One of the best articles I have read on Core Purpose is Jim Collins and Jerry Porras article titled “Building Your Company’s Vision.” The authors explain that a well-developed vision consists of two parts, core ideology and an envisioned future. The core ideology consists of two components, Core Values and Core Purpose. The envisioned future has two elements, The Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and a vivid description of what it will look like when you achieve your BHAG. The former should never change, while the latter may, once you have accomplished your long term 10-20 year goal. These should be your guiding purpose to go above and beyond the status quo. As we hear more and more companies becoming purpose driven organizations to attract and keep A-Talent having a well defined Core Purpose is the first step in the process.
So, how do we develop the Core Purpose for column 2 of our One Page Strategic Plan (free template) that will stand the test of time? We begin by asking the most fundamental question of why the organization exists. This question aims not at determining what products or services the company offers, but focuses on what motivates people to carry out the work. The work we actually do may change through the years, but why we do what we do should last for a very long time. The core purpose also captures the soul of the organization and relates to its mission statement.
To begin, ask these three questions to define your Core Purpose statement:
- Have we written down the Core Purpose?
- Have we announced it to the rest of the company?
- Does it pass the memory test?
If the answer to these questions is yes, congratulations, you are on the right path! You still may want to dig deeper to see if the core purpose resonates with your team. Does it motivate them to come to work and serve your clients to the best of their ability? Do they encompass the guiding principles that drive your company and align with your vision statement? If the answer is no, you may want to spend some time with the executive team discovering what it is.
To begin discovering your Core Purpose statement, try using the Five Whys exercise.
- Start with WHAT you do. Write the statement on a flip chart or white board: "We make X products or deliver Y services."
- Next, ask "WHY is that important"? Write the answer on the flip chart or white board.
- Ask the WHY question again and again (up to 5 times), each time brainstorming and charting your answers.
- Review all the different answers to the WHY question with your team, searching for the answer that resonates most, generates some passion, and gets to the heart of your organization's Core Purpose.
The goal is to ask the question until you get to the true essence of your purpose, one that can guide the organization in the decisions it makes and attracts and motivates employees to carry out the mission.
Here are a few good core purpose examples that have endured the test of time:
3M: To solve unsolved problems innovatively
Merck: To preserve and improve human life
Mary Kay Cosmetics: To give unlimited opportunity to women
Walt Disney: To make people happy
After you develop your core purpose, test your core purpose with your executive team for a quarter or two to determine if you have it right. Does it resonate with why you come to work every day? Is it enduring? Is it inspirational and motivational? Does it fit even if we change the products or services we offer? Does the Core Purpose align with our Core Values?
Keep in mind that the mission and vision statement of your company are likely to be different than you core values. Those are where you want to go, while a core purpose statement is who you are. These are the set of values that instill your company's purpose and how you hold the company and its team members to a high standard on a day to day basis.
Understanding and developing the right Core Purpose is well worth the time invested. It will help drive your strategy, attract the right people and give meaning to the work your people do. Good luck!
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Editor's Note: This blog was originally published on July 12, 2013, and has been updated.