If we have learned anything from 2020, we must realise as leaders that ‘normal’ took a back seat for extraordinary.

The pandemic’s impact on business and the way we connect was unlike anything we have experienced in this generation. But I wouldn’t say it is unique.

The average age of a soldier in the second world war was a desperately young 26. There are stories of recruits being commissioned in their late teens and early twenties due to the rapid loss of life. A responsibility none of them will have had any experience in.

But what does this have to do with building a company purpose in the shadows of 2020?

Sometimes we are cast into roles and situations that we are neither prepared for or have the skills to deliver on. While an extreme example, the second world war was based on a few challenging ideas that impacted the many.

The pandemic left no stone unturned in how it has impacted the world, but what it has done is thrown out the rulebook when it comes to the way we lead our businesses.

Once the initial shock was over, we saw many stages of change, one of which was an outpouring of support for one another. So much humanity that it was overwhelming to see humanity at its best and the planet briefly started to heal itself.

One of the biggest challenges was understanding what was ahead—fear of the unknown and how we went into self-protection mode.

While there were many losses in different ways and will continue to be so, what I witnessed was the underlying energy that many leaders used to fuel their vision for the future.

They fell into two camps as I see it:

  1. Cut and run – slash costs at all cost
  2. Take a moment and reflect on what is, what there might be and what you want.

The resounding difference was the leaders that ran companies with purpose were able to see how they could navigate the greatest of challenges while protecting their people, themselves and the business.

It is not just a post-pandemic requirement, but the requirement of all businesses that strive for sustainability.

Many businesses have been lost when external challenges impact them, but there is no doubt that you move beyond the transaction and deliver impact with an enduring sense of purpose.

If being a purpose-driven business is so important, how do we create our company purpose in the first place?

Here are my 5 top tips for creating and implementing your company purpose:

Don’t chase profits.

Profit is the bi-product of doing good work or solving a problem. You could argue that many companies exist that are profit-driven, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Profit is not bad; it’s how you generate it that matters.

If you have a clear vision for the impact you want to make on your people, industry or world, the profits will come.

Ensure that your business strategy outlines the ‘why.’

If you ask an accountant what should be in your plan they will talk about cash flow, if you ask an entrepreneur they might not have a plan, you ask an artist they will want to serve the world through art, but not have the money to pay the bills.

Before you start your strategic planning, sit down and ask yourself – who and what do we serve with our business, then challenge yourself to ask the same question without the use of financial numbers or profits.
Your purpose is led by your emotions and intent, a need beyond your own that will impact others. For example:

“Our purpose is to nourish people and the planet.”
Whole Foods

Straight away, you can step beyond the business structure and see why they exist. It also sends a message to those who want to work with the company what they expect from their employees and every decision they make.

Accept that you are in the people business, no matter your industry.

It may seem a little silly, but in my experience purpose can only come when you embrace your most valuable asset your staff and your customers – which are both strangely ‘people’.

Your purpose will enable you to navigate these needs and design strategies and processes that support both what they need and what you want from the business with complex needs and emotions.

It is far more straightforward than you think. You don’t need complex HR policies and procedures. You need to be human, and that demands self-awareness and emotional intelligence to understand at any moment if the health of your business is aligned with your purpose.

Illustrated by these two statements:

‘We must ensure our team have all the support they need during these challenging times’

‘We need strategies to ensure the productivity of our human capital’.

One is from a purpose-driven business and leader, the other from a corporate.

That doesn’t say that a corporate can’t be purposeful, but it is a more significant challenge to change long-held paradigms.

Use company values to keep your purpose on track.

Values are a set of rules that drive behaviours in society and organisations. With company values in place, you can check in on the decisions you and your team make daily to move you a step closer to meeting your goals and living your purpose.

For example, the values of Waking Giants are:

  • Make it happen – If you have an idea, or commit to something, get it done.
  • Grow together – As a team and with our clients – if we are not on the journey together, we are only part of a transaction.
  • Ditch the baggage – If we hold on to our beliefs and ideas to long, we stop ourselves growing. The ability to own failure and the unknown is the ability to grow and thrive.

Your purpose may change, and that’s ok.

As your business evolves and changes, your purpose will realign. You may even solve the thing you were chasing and be able to move onto the next mission.

The only advice I can offer on this is that if it does not get you out of bed in the morning if it does drive every decision you make, it may be time to reassess or change.

To ‘be’ a purpose-driven business you don’t necessarily have to save the planet in some grand gesture, but it is essential that the way you spend your time on the earth has a positive impact.

“Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.”
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

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