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  • Keith Wells

Is your purpose fit for purpose?





This is Warren Buffet's "tide goes out" time. For something that is meant to guide everything about an organisation, 'purpose' seems strangely vulnerable. In some cases, it's been dropped or even replaced as the driving idea, as businesses shelve it until "things have got back on track". (Shouldn't the purpose be the very thing that gets them back on track?) In others, it's just been forgotten about, presumably because other priorities have always been more important and now we're seeing the real choice of swimwear. In only a few, purpose has endured and strengthened, confirming the organisation's commitment and clarity.


From the conversations we've been having over the past couple of months, we can boil it all down to two key tests. First: where does responsibility for 'purpose' sit in the organisation? Not for initiating or signing-off, but for making sure that it informs every decision, every measure, and every action? Second: what does the organisation really think about making profit? Is it the raison d'être or the result of what the business does?


Obviously, it's complicated. But to simplify things, we're using the chart above with four categories that describe the authenticity and sustainability of a business's purpose.


'Committed contribution': responsibility is taken by the most senior leadership, to ensure that the purpose is embedded all through the business. Profit is seen to the outcome of doing the right things, and if that means taking a longer-term view, well, that's probably the whole point.


'Legacy lip-service': profit is still viewed as the outcome, rather than the driver, but the business is expecting Marketing to take responsibility. That leaves too many gaps or opportunities for purpose to be ignored - and it's vulnerable.


'Vanity vehicle': if the CEO is responsible for the purpose, but everyone knows that profit is what really matters, then either the CEO or the purpose is at risk. And quite possibly both.


'Tagline tombola': there are still many businesses seeing purpose as the latest 'must have'. Without giving it the seniority it needs, or the fundamental link with the business's objectives, it's easily expendable.


Who knows when the tide will come back in, or how high it will rise...whatever happens, 'purpose' will only help the right-thinking business stay afloat.

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