Strategy Always Starts With a Purpose

“Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement.” W. Clement Stone

… including of a successfully implemented strategy. Being purpose-driven is key for all stakeholders of a business – customers, employees and suppliers are attracted to why a company ‘does something’ and by extension to what it believes in. In a complex world, being clear about a company’s purpose is no longer discerning – it’s the only way to run a business in the 21st century.

A clear and compelling purpose creates a connection beyond merely just selling products or services to customers – it reaches out to customers through selling them what the company believes in, before selling them products or services.

Similarly, it’s not just about hiring the best people to do the job – it’s also about hiring people who ‘believe in what the company believes in’ and who become passionate about it. Such passionate employees will then be ten times more motivated and successful than employees who merely do a job for a salary. In both cases, it transcends a monetary transaction and creates a strong bound.

Every concept of strategy such as a sustainable competitive advantage, positioning, differentiation and value add then flows from that clear and compelling purpose – the marker of the most successful companies.

However many companies today seem to have lost their purpose. Most will proudly say that they have one but it bears no resemblance to what it should be i.e. why does a company exist, what is the unique value that it brings to the world, what sets it apart and why and for whom does it matter.

I would defy anyone to be compelled, enthused, let alone attracted by the likes of “being the largest… “, “being the finest… “, “being the world’s most admired… “, “being the leading provider of… “, “to be best… in the world”, “to be the preferred… “, “to be the most successful provider of… “, etc.

Compare those with Unilever’s “to create a better future everyday” (from which then flows the development of brands and services that help people look and feel good and get more out of life) and then you understand what a clear and compelling purpose is.

The theme behind this purpose dates back to Unilever’s 19th century founder, William Lever, whose purpose was “to make cleanliness commonplace, to lessen work for women, to foster health and contribute to personal attractiveness, so that life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use our products”. His Sunlight Soap was acknowledged as a revolutionary new product that helped popularise cleanliness and hygiene in Victorian England.