Purpose! Pur or Pose?

Sunday, 30. June 2019

It’s like Pokémon-Go for adults: board members and managing directors, communication HR professionals – everyone is looking for the WHY. Many of them gaze at their own little world just like young people stare at the display of their smartphones. Where is it, how can I catch it and how do I move quickly to the next to-do?

Search for meaning makes a lot of sense. However, there is a lot of nonsense happening on the way. The right purpose is “pure”, magnetic and has what it takes to transform a company and retain employees. The semi-right purpose often only seems like a “pose”, it purls along, doesn’t sweep anyone away.

People cannot align themselves well with a “pose” and the corporate strategy lacks a clear direction. Nevertheless, it happens over and over again. The result of positioning processes are often:

  • a. too extensive
  • b. too generic
  • c. without demand to “right” transformation

Too extensive: word-clouds distract from the essential

In early stages there used to be a mission and a vision. That was it. Then Mission Statement, Golden Circle, Employer Value Proposition, Driving Values and Purpose were added. Does it become clearer, easier? No, on the contrary. More positioning statements do not help in sharpening organizations. The more text, the greater the risk of dilution. And the more complicated it becomes for employees asking themselves: What should I identify with? And what should I act upon?

Fig. 1: The bubble dance in the positioning process, identifire 2019

Figure 1 shows the bubble dance many companies struggle with. These word-clouds suggest that a modern, agile company must make a statement on everyone and everything. But it’s not about mass, it’s not about semi-scientific definitions and differentiation, but – as my colleague Axel Ebert so aptly puts it – about reflecting. Everything else makes little sense in practice. It degenerates into a kind of pose: you want to represent more than you actually are.

But it’s not about mass, it’s not about semi-scientific definitions and differentiation, but – as my colleague Axel Ebert so aptly puts it – about reflecting. Everything else makes little sense in practice. It degenerates into a kind of pose: you want to represent more than you actually are.

If you reach into this bubble porridge courageously, things will simplify quickly.  Many of the terms can be summarized and summed up under the simple triumvirate of purpose, brand and vision (see Fig. 2) – combined with the thoughts of Simon Sinek, this is pragmatically called:

Fig.2: Purpose, brand, vision combined with the terms of the Golden Circle, identifire 2019
  1. The WHY corresponds with the purpose or mission: Why do we do what we do every day? What is our purpose?
  2. The HOW is expressed in the brand and the brand values: How do we do it, with which driving values? How does our brand provide orientation in the conflicting fields of purpose and vision?
  3. the WOW (a term that is characterized by identifire) expresses the vision: What will our actions pay off in the long term – what do we want to achieve at the end of the rainbow in 5, 10, or 20 years?

This simplification can be communicated by managers and lived by employees. However, a memorable structure alone is not enough. What subject is it worth working for, perhaps even fighting for?

b. Too generic: supporting content is needed

Mission: Every day we transform innovation into customer experience. Vision: We strive for the highest recommendation rate in the industry.

Is there any company in the world that wouldn’t fully subscribe to these two things? Aren’t those two statements self-evident for everyone who wants to operate successfully in the market? Where is the force that motivates employees to an outstanding performance or at least ties them to the company?

Not only millennials, but also the more mature semesters beyond the age of 40 increasingly want to contribute to everyday business: either to a key societal problem such as the loss in solidarity, loneliness, an ageing society, or – even more globally, to the SDGs. The Sustainable Development Goals, launched by the UN and recognized by all countries in the world, are intended to ensure the survival of our planet.

Fig. 3: Overview of megatrends and sustainable development goals, source: Zukunftsinstitut and UN

Safaricom with its mobile banking subsidiary m-pesa is the first African world market leader. As a telecommunication company at the beginning of the m-pesa success story 10 years ago, they could have said: Every day we transform innovation into customer experience. And: We want to be the best in East Africa.

But they didn’t. They said and still say today: “We exist to transform lives” and “Leave no one behind”. Their mobile phone payment system has brought virtually every Kenyan adult into the monetary system. People who would never have had a chance to get a bank account because of their income account is passbook, credit card, checking account. The payment behavior documented with it decides about who gets a credit. Banks are out of the situation are now officially taking part in economic life. Their m-pesa game. 45 percent of the gross domestic product is handled annually by m-pesa.

You don’t have to go to Nairobi: Delacon in Steyregg, as the world market leader in phytogenic feed additives, has expectations just as high. Of course, they transfer innovation into customer experience daily and want to be the best in their field. But the carrots for the employees are called: “Make the most effective phytogenic solutions for health and nutrition available to all“ and „Unlocking the plant universe for better lives“. They put health and a better life for humans and animals into their mission and want to use their research to make the power of the plant-universe accessible to all living beings. Do you read the difference? Do you feel what I mean? One is a pleasing “pose” – the other is “pure” will to create something new.

c. No entitlement to the “right” transformation

In many places today, transformation is understood to mean digitalization. No wonder, this challenge is existential for many industries. And because everything is so exhausting, you often lose sight of the essentials. Namely, of what really has to be done: The transformation of business models (see Fig. 4). Digitalization is only a means to an end..

Fig. 4: Purpose over Profit – Transformation of business models, Source: Trine 2018

It used to be enough to make money. If there was plenty, you could consider what to donate for what. As a private individual as well as an entrepreneur. Then setting up CSR departments became en vogue to put on a cloak for the dirty coat here and there. Or simply to make amends, e.g. with CO2 compensation.

The next step – that more and more Social Enterprises around the world are taking – is to choose a business model that is planet-friendly and grandchild-appropriate. Of course, such companies create the most attractive WHYs. Here the purpose is “pure” and identification is simple. Either you like the idea or you exclude it, and therefore the employer, for yourself.

Tips for a successful positioning process

Nobody is so naive as to believe that all companies establish sustainable business models within the next 5 years. But it is clear that these things can be addressed today without being placed in a green hippie-corner. The effects of climate change are so perceivable that the idea of sustainable management has arrived at the heart of global society. This fact can be used for reflection. Because you repeatedly have to think about where you stand with your company and what the next steps are for your organization anyway.

In this sense, a few guiding questions to reach a meaningful level in the positioning processes.

  • Company as Movement: What would our founder see as the greatest necessity today? What predicaments or challenges would he or she want to address?
  • 3-Workers-3-Levels-Exercise: A journalist comes by a construction site and asks the first worker about his job, he answers: I carry bricks. Shortly after he asks another worker: “I’m building a wall” – that’s his answer. A little later he asks the same question again: the third worker answers that he is building a cathedral. What is your brick, your wall, your cathedral – what are you building?
  • Sustainable Development Goals: Take the SDGs of the UN at hand and consider to which of these goals your company, your organization can make a substantial contribution. Then connect your key performance indicator system with the selected targets.
  • Special Blend: Choose a healthy mix of employee involvement and an active, small decision-making group. Avoid that your purpose becomes the lowest common denominator of all doubters.
  • Interactive & lean: Organize the process in a way that makes it fun and enjoyable for those who carry it. Wherever there are expert opinions: consult, compare, take the essential and move on. Wherever creativity is required: involve striking colleagues, think broadly and then aptly set focus. Clearly and transparently decide which ideas drop out and which are included in the final selection.
  • Don’t think without the top management: Make sure that the top management is in the room. It is increasingly uncool if the project groups develop recommendations and the management decides afterwards, detached from the group’s energy and discussion. “Pure” is only possible when workers and decision-makers are building the same cathedral.

Try it, I am looking forward to an exchange of experiences! Reach out: karin.krobath@identifire.at 

Dr. Karin Krobath has been a partner of identifire® and wortwelt® since 2004. She positions companies and develops them through the power of the brand. Her fields of work are employer branding, corporate culture, innovation- and language culture. She organizes Learning Journeys to Digital Africa and, as honorary chairwoman of Light for the World, has an eye on the global challenges that demand new forms of business and cooperation.