I’m a big proponent of building your business based on a higher purpose, rather than financial gain alone. Today I find that some entrepreneurs, are putting all their focus on a social or environmental cause, and perhaps naively expect that purpose alone will lead to a sustainable business. The reality is that purpose must be balanced with execution for long-term survival.
For those of you who are looking for some guidance on how to meet this balance, I found some real insights in a new book, “Purpose Meets Execution,” by award winning HR executive and business leader Louis Efron. I advocate his nine deliberate steps for bringing balance between purpose and execution to every organization, including new startups and mature businesses:
- Define a pragmatic organizational purpose first. If team members and customers can’t relate to your purpose, or don’t agree with it, your business will not thrive. It’s important to involve your team in the definition of purpose, and agree it is consistent with a viable business model, including opportunity, customer need, and a positive return.
- Design a structure flexible enough for change. If you build an organization that can’t change, you will become extinct. The only way to do this is to assume that change is necessary to keep up with the market and competitors, and make it part of the process. The longer a system goes without change, the harder it is to pivot when required.
- Find new methods for improving communication. Better communication facilitates both purpose and execution. Be aware that communication is much more than just talking and documenting – it’s active listening, building relationships, and walking the walk as well as the talk. Hire, coach, and train everyone on the team to focus on communication.
- Lead with an executable vision for the future. Employees and customers alike will rally around a vision, supporting your purpose, if it is seen as executable, with the potential for making their life better if they get it right. The intent is also to get beyond the dream stage, and focus the organization’s energy on the challenges at hand today.
- Live and demonstrate aligned people values. Company and organizational values must be aligned with employee and customer personal values, or your execution won’t work, no matter what the purpose. These values must be lived by the leaders during execution every day, and reinforced by rewards and recognition on an ongoing basis.
- Place only the right people in the right roles. This starts with hiring only people with a purpose and cultural fit, as well as having the right skills and experience to fill specific roles. On an ongoing basis, it also means mentoring for development of existing team members to prepare them for both the purpose and execution of new functions.
- Create a mission that helps people enjoy work more. Part of employee satisfaction is having a well-understood purpose, but they also have to enjoy the execution. Make sure they fully understand the mission, how their efforts will help customers live better, and how their efforts will be fully appreciated and rewarded by company leaders and peers.
- Measure employee and customer engagement. By focusing on both employee as well as customer satisfaction, you will balance purpose with execution. It also helps to look for triggers of disengagement, such as a time-consuming expense process, or an uptick in customer complaints. Leaders can gain much from walk-arounds and customer visits.
- Take visible action quickly on engagement issues. If you let engagement issues continue unchecked, the negativity will quickly spread throughout your business and damage both purpose and execution. Take action and celebrate results. Foster a sense of urgency, and look for positive energy both inside and in customer feedback.
In my experience, the most powerful driver of business success is a great culture of purpose balanced with executional excellence. A focus on one without the other doesn’t bring personal satisfaction, or financial gain. I encourage every entrepreneur and business leader to take a hard look at the balance in their own organization. Waiting until you sense a crisis is too late.