Core Purpose - It’s All About You, Not Your Customers (Sort of)

By Chris Cosper

dateFri, May 23, 2014 @ 10:15 AM

Jim Collins refers to your Core Purpose as your company’s reason for being.  It answers the big question WHY?  “Why do we exist as a business?” “What is our deeper purpose and meaning?” “Why are we passionate about the work we do?”  

In his famous HBR article “Building your Company’s Vision,” Jim Collins describes a good Core Purpose as oneR2Icon_Other Mtg_FINAL that could last for 100 years and is not descriptive of specific financial goals, business strategies, market segments or product lines. He advises that while “you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose; it is like a guiding star on the horizon – forever pursued but never reached.”  

And while your Core Purpose may be visionary and never completely fulfilled, you will absolutely fulfill many very real benefits in your business.  A strong Core Purpose will inspire your people and increase their level of engagement.  It will provide guidance for decision making and help you know which opportunities to say YES to and which to say NO to.  It will help you recruit and retain “A Players” that are personally aligned with your purpose. And the pursuit of achieving this purpose will inspire creativity, innovation, determination and persistence in your culture.

I’ve worked with many companies in the pursuit of discovering their true Core Purpose, and there is one common trap that almost all of them have leaned toward at some time during the process.  Just when we start to get close to the truth, someone will say “yeah, but we can’t say that because our customers…..or, our suppliers…..or, our competitors.…”   The rest of that sentence isn’t important.  I stop them right there and remind them that this is an exercise of looking inward, not outward, and the only audience that you need to be concerned with during this exercise is your employees.  The only way your Core Purpose can fulfill it’s core purpose is if it is 100% representative of the hearts of your people.  

Many companies have shared their Core Purposes and have received goodwill from the public, but only when it is authentic and represents an internal truth.  And the only way for it to be authentic is if you do the exercise without considering anyone’s opinion other than the people who’s hearts and minds you need to engage….. your employees.  Your people will see through any attempt to manipulate the process or disguise a marketing message as your Core Purpose, and if they do, they will likely respond with cynicism rather than enthusiasm.  

I often coach clients to stay away from word-smithing or thinking about how it will look on the website and just focus on the concept first.  Choosing the right words and polishing it up can come later.  And after all of that is done, you can consider giving it to your marketing team to share with the world.  Chances are that if your Core Purpose is authentic and noble, the rest of the world will also appreciate it.  


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Chris Cosper


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