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Always Start
With Why

by Paul Northway

Business person using a mobile phone and laptop

One of the biggest challenges with leading a company is making sure that everyone within the building is aligned with what the purpose of the business is. It is common to think that the reason for going into business is to generate a profit. While that is an important goal, it is merely a result of a deeply-held purpose. A successful business always starts with their purpose – their “Why”.

Jim Collins and Jerry Poras, authors of Built to Last, studied exceptional companies that have prospered over the long term. What they found is that these companies all had a deeply-held purpose that creates a strong sense of identity and continuity throughout the business. Collins and Poras describe a company’s core purpose as follows:

It’s the organization’s fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work – it taps their idealistic motivation – and gets at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existence beyond just making money.

Most companies fail to capture their purpose and ultimately struggle with remaining relevant in today’s rapidly changing business environment. What these companies have are mission statements that are not memorable and do not motivate their employees and clients. These businesses are often driven solely by profit and performance, which does not always resonate with employees.

Employees want to know that what they do every day is meaningful and serves a greater purpose. There is no doubt that employee performance has to be tied to tangible metrics, but when also tied to an understanding of a deeper purpose that performance will improve. Employees are more driven when they know their work is part of the bigger mission.

Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, has written that any person or organization can explain what they do; some can explain how they are different or better; but very few can articulate why. Why is not about money or profit – those are results. Why is the thing that inspires us and inspires those around us.

The leader who can identify their company’s core purpose and clearly articulate it to everyone within the organization will achieve a heightened level of employee and client engagement. Don’t get me wrong – finding your “Why” is exhausting and a major evolution in thinking. It will take tremendous effort on behalf of senior leadership and may come with some bumps in the road along the way. You will know when you finally uncover your “Why” because it will be accompanied by a strong sense of conviction.

Every company sells something to someone and Simon Sinek sums it up perfectly when he says that “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”.

I urge business leaders to take the time to identify their company’s purpose and develop a brand that is driven by that purpose. You will realize greater organizational alignment and achieve bigger results.