Without a Clear Purpose – You are Simply Marking Time!

by Joe Sullivan on March 19, 2012

People with a purpose live longer. The same goes for companies. Companies that have a clear core purpose – one that guides its actions and drives its choices – are the companies that succeed. Purpose-focused organizations do not simply mark time.

Sunday’s Seattle Times featured an article about the transformation of Starbucks and the return of its vitality, its innovation, and (as a byproduct of a clear focus) the return of its profitability, not to mention its stock price. Howard Shultz, who returned to Starbucks as CEO in early 2008, acknowledged the company had lost its innovative edge and had much to say about the coffee company’s rejuvenation.

In the years leading up to its problems Starbucks had been on an aggressive growth phase, building as many as seven stores each day. This resulted in a dilution of focus and Starbucks was using growth to mask other deeper challenges at the company. In the article, Schultz was quoted saying: “We’re not going to allow ever again at Starbucks for growth to cover up mistakes. We’re not going to have unbridled growth that turns into a strategy as opposed to a purpose.” He is spot on.

I believe companies today, and financial services in particular, need to consider the topic of purpose. What is that set of ideas a company uses to set and pursue clear goals? How does that purpose accommodate changes in the market or shifts in consumer behavior?

Have a conversation with your senior management team and see what they say. Then talk to your tellers or call center staff. Regardless of their role in your organization, most are likely to say “profit”, “make money”, etc. For most in financial services, the idea of profit is central to the reason why we open the doors every day. But it is not your purpose. As Fast Company blogger Shawn Parr wrote last month – “To be clear, making money is absolutely imperative, but it is just one of the outcomes of a successful company.”

Howard Schultz learned, a company’s sense of purpose, its adaptability and its skill at executing strategy are what assure profit – and longevity.

So what is your purpose, your organization’s reason for being?

Ask this of your board, your senior management, your staff…yourself. Your collective answer can help you differentiate; realign with customer needs and save you from the fate of simply marking time until your own obsolescence.

Let me know how it goes.

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