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How to make purpose your business superpower

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Many business owners and leaders have become aware of the contribution that “purpose” can make to business success. And indeed, a good number of them have been successful in converting that awareness into measurable outcomes.

Others, though, haven’t quite cracked the code.

So what’s the secret? How does a business go from simply knowing its purpose to being genuinely purpose-driven?

Why bother?

Before we answer that, let’s clarify what "purpose" means. In the purest sense, “purpose” is the non-financial reason your business exists, usually expressed with reference to your clients. It articulates why they’re better off for having engaged with your business.

Post it note with "why" printed on it
The question that should be on the tip of every business owner's tongue

“Why do we exist” is the fundamental question whose answer leads to clarity of purpose.

Recently, the term has begun being used to describe the pursuit of a cause and making a social and environmental impact. We believe it’s okay (even desirable) for a business to pursue such goals. However, while that’s true, they’re not (for most businesses) the answer to the “why do we exist” question.

With that in mind, what are the benefits of understanding why your business exists and being clear on your purpose?

  • Your purpose provides a framework for all decision-making;

  • It drives effective and lasting customer engagement;

  • Energises and engages teams; and,

  • Sets your business apart from the crowd.

Oh…purpose-driven businesses also outperform their peers financially by a pretty handsome margin.

As a business owner or leader, how do you maximise these outcomes? What’s different about businesses that do this well?

It’s not a linear process, but happily, there's a logical starting point. And that’s with your business vision and strategy.

Purpose drives Vision

If purpose is the underlying reason your business exists, vision is the statement that focuses on where you see the business at some time in future (we somewhat arbitrarily suggest looking five years out) if it is to then be “true to purpose."

With a clear purpose, it’s easy to articulate the vision for your business.

Magnifying glass showing the word vision
Is your vision purpose-driven?

Without it, vision becomes tougher to communicate in a truly meaningful (or useful) way.

Here’s a challenge…

Consider the current vision (assuming you have one) for your business. Recite it to yourself, then immediately ask a one-word question.


If you’re unsure of your answer, purpose and vision likely don’t line up.

Here’s an example.

At various times, a large Australian financial institution has stated its purpose as “backing the bold who move Australia forward”. Which we’d have to say is on its own pretty good - aspirational and realistic.

Its vision? “To be the most respected [among its competitors] in Australia and New Zealand”.

We mean no disrespect to this organisation whatsoever when, in thinking about the vision, we ask “why”? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be respected or even “the most respected”.

The question in our mind is even if it could in future objectively show it is, in fact, the most respected bank in Australia and New Zealand, would that necessarily mean it remains true to its purpose?

In other words, did they back the bold who move Australia forward?

Maybe, maybe not. And it’s the “maybe not” that creates issues for customers, potential customers, staff, and other stakeholders.

Oh…and it must confuse the life out of our Kiwi cousins, given they’re not even mentioned in the organisation’s purpose.

To realise the benefits of being a purpose-driven business, it’s important to start with a clear link between purpose and vision.

Next...Vision drives Strategy

Got your purpose and vision in tune? The next step is to focus your attention on strategy.

But not like this:

Business strategy cartoon

As you work through the strategic planning process, setting the longer-term priorities for your business, the “why” question is, again, a great one to keep in mind. Each strategic priority you establish for the business should link to its vision and purpose.

Here’s another challenge.

Think about your current strategy (again, the assumption is you have one).

If you were asked to explain to a customer, a staff member and other stakeholders how each of your strategic initiatives would contribute to achieving your vision in the context of purpose, how might you do it? More to the point, could you do it?

If you can’t rise to that challenge and are satisfied that your purpose and vision are sound, your strategy needs some work.

Getting the strategy right (that is, linked to vision and purpose) is, without question, a challenging process.

For example, it’s easy for a business to get sidetracked by what they see (or think they see) competitors doing strategically. That drives negative thinking like “we don’t want to get left behind, so we better do what they’re doing”.

While an awareness of the competitive environment is one of the prerequisites to sound strategic planning, it can’t be the driving force. If that’s what it becomes, you’ll find your business working to someone else’s purpose rather than yours.

As Steve Jobs said:

“You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.”

Two people in an arm wrestle
Don't get locked in an arm-wrestle with competitors: be different

For best results...

If you’ve read some of our previous Insights, you’ll no doubt have your purpose under control by now because, of course, you've acted on our suggestions!!

If you’re still not there yet, you have two choices…you can either spend some time reading our posts or, better yet, get in touch with us, and we can help you out.

Either way, once you’re clear on your purpose, as we've pointed out in this post, your next step is to objectively review your vision and strategy in the context of that purpose.

How best to go about this? The answer is that it depends on a whole range of factors, including:

  • The size of your business: in a small business, it’s often possible to involve everyone in the process giving maximum opportunity for early buy-in. In bigger businesses, that may not be the case which means you may need to draw representatives from across functional areas to participate;

  • How in tune purpose, vision and strategy already are will dictate how much “remediation” (for want of a better term) and, therefore how much time and effort will be needed;

  • Preparedness to drive the process internally: often, it’s better to engage someone independent to facilitate, document and follow up on the entire process; and

  • Propensity of people in the business to embrace change which will have a direct bearing on the “degree of difficulty” of the process.

In addition, the process should be conducted as transparently as possible.

Communicate frequently across the business, repeat messages where necessary and use all appropriate types and channels of communication at your disposal. The last thing you need at any stage is your employees not being fully informed.

Are you clear on your business purpose?

How deeply embedded in your business is it?

Does it drive vision and strategy?

GrowthCatalyst can help you answer these questions and more.

We invite you to contact us to arrange a conversation, face-to-face or virtual.

Alternatively, you can book a time for an initial discussion here.

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