In this modern and dynamic world of business, figuring out exactly what drives success can be tricky work. Consumer habits are rapidly changing, customer expectations are through the roof, and successful workplace environments are more different now than they have ever been. If there’s one thing we can hold onto as a differentiator between a business that’s thriving and a business that’s just getting by, however, it’s purpose. Research shows that an authentic purpose drives employees, and motivated employees drive results.
So, businesses need an authentic purpose to thrive now more than ever, and a description of how purpose is the invisible leader is perfectly motivating, but sometimes leaders have trouble differentiating between what is and what isn’t an authentic purpose in practice. To help out a bit with this confusion, let’s look at 3 things an authentic purpose is not, and why these things fail the criteria.
The biggest driver of business, money. Milton Friedman said it best: there is only one responsibility of business, to maximize profit within the confines of the law. People want to make money, so this should drive business smoothly, right? Wrong, and two reasons come to mind quickly. First, unless you’re running a one-person-show, you’re not the only person working this company. Even if your sole and authentic purpose is making money, if that isn’t relatable to the rest of the team, your team isn’t going to be dedicated to the purpose (or to the business).
Second, money doesn’t sell. More than ever, customers value transparency, and customers want brands to stand for something. If your brand is only standing for your pockets and your investors, customers are going to flock elsewhere. The golden age of e-commerce has made competition fiercer than ever, which makes every chance at connecting with consumers so much more vital.
You wake up every morning striving to be better than yesterday. Your business is the same. Every day you need your team to be committed to breaking new records, achieving new heights, and climbing to new levels of success. That’s basic leadership, right? Except…what does any of that even mean?
Records, new heights, “success”—if you think about it long enough, and at the risk of sounding too philosophical, these are just arbitrary measurements and concepts. What does it actually mean to do better this quarter? What does it mean that you’ve achieved a new record in sales? Conversion? Growth? To a disengaged worker, it probably doesn’t mean anything at all.
Especially when the business is your own creation, making sure it’s successful might seem like a reasonable goal, but it isn’t a purpose. By treating it as a purpose, you alienate your team, because there’s no reason their individual commitment and work ethic should revolve around the success of your project, at least not directly. Success, at any arbitrary metric, can’t be an authentic purpose.
Both of the previous examples were doomed for a reason: finiteness. An authentic purpose, especially for a sustainable business, needs to be ongoing. Any purpose that can be finitely “achieved” is, by definition, an unsustainable business model. Once you’ve achieved that goal, it’s time to pack things up.
This is a difficult constraint to break away from since our world revolves around finiteness. We’re tied to quarterly reports, annual growth, and other constraints that only offer reflections of performance in both finite time and finite measurements. If we limit ourselves to these finite scopes, however, we’re doomed to close ourselves off from creativity, innovation, and, ironically, success.
Think of innovations in different industries, for example. In this interview, Simon Sinek mentions how the publishing industry didn’t invent Amazon, and how the movie industry didn’t invent Netflix. Although these both seem like logical continuations of the respective industries, those same industries were not the champions of these innovations because businesses are largely tied down to finite mentalities. If you’re only focusing on maximizing profits for the current finite chunk of time, you miss out on seeing how streaming and subscription services are mere years away from turning the industry upside down. Any “authentic purpose” that is finite in nature is doomed to be left behind in this infinite industry.
An authentic purpose cannot be money, success, or, more broadly, finite. These superficial and short-term goals aren’t just unsustainable as business models, they’re too unrelatable to create any sort of culture of significance or motivation amongst team members. To find a proper authentic purpose, you will want to steer away from things of this nature. Care to learn about what you’ll need to steer towards?
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