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Purpose as strategy

Managers are not loyal to a company, or even a boss. They place their allegience where there are values that resonate for them, and that they find satisfying. Increasing levels of uncertainty are feeding a desire for something to believe in, something that is largely immune to fads and provides hope for the myriad of future scenarios being traced out for us.

Simon Sinek bases his work on the desire to believe in something. He popularised the Golden Circle formula, propelling him to leadership guru status almost overnight. His TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” that explains how the Golden Circle works has had 44.6 million views. Find your WHY (what you believe in, the reason you get up in the morning), Sinek urges businesses and leaders, to communicate that first. Then speak to the HOW and the WHAT. Most people start with the HOW or the WHAT and they allow these aspects to dominate. They miss valuable opportunities to reach others in a place that instinctively matters to them.

A reason to get up in the morning matters to humans. We strive to make sense of the world around us, and to attach meaning to it. A sense of purpose anchors our efforts and focuses them, it gives significance to our collections of daily actions and entertainments as the months and years slip past us. In a changeable age, discovery and ‘ventilation’ of a purpose is a way of taking a measure of control over chaotic conditions. We trade the position of ‘disrupted’ for that of intentional ‘designer’ of our lives.

Finding the purpose and ventilating it is equally vital to enduring business success, says Nikos Mourkogiannis. Purpose is valuable in organisations as it make employees feel that their work is worthwhile. Purpose keeps driving the company forward in times that are taxing and complex, providing a clear reference point to inform, guide and direct decision and action, and justifying the risks associated with innovation and the longer term payoffs. Purpose maintains energy levels. When a company loses energy, its most often down to a lack of purpose. The sum of all these parts combines precisely into competitive advantage. Not all companies have a purpose, assures Mourkogiannis, but the enduringly successful ones do.

In order for purpose to motivate and drive, it must have a moral dimension. Mourkogiannis puts forward four sets of moral ideas for us to look at in our workplaces. Each is underpinned by a philosopher.

  1. Discovery
    “The New” I have freely chosen it.
    Philosopher: Kierkegaard.
    Companies: IBM, Sony, Intel, Virgin.
  2. Excellence
    “The Good” It constitutes fulfillment.
    Philosopher: Aristotle
    Companies: Apple, BMW, The Economist, Berkshire Hathaway.
  3. Altruism
    “The Helpful” It increases happiness.
    Philosopher: Hume
    Companies: Walmart, HP, Nordstrom.
  4. Heroicism
    “The Effective” It demonstrates achievement.
    Philosopher: Nietzsche
    Companies: Microsoft, Ford.

Every company manifests its purpose differently. And a coherent alignment between purpose and strategy is impossible to copy. It appears that ‘believing in something’ may offer the advantage that organisations crave in uncertain times.

Dive deeper into Purpose by reading “Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies“, by Nikos Mourkogiannis.

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