The 6 things you really need to know about Purpose
As you know if you read these posts regularly (thank you!), we talk a LOT about Purpose here at Provision - because it’s a fundamental part of how you create a more sustainable food system.
The internet is awash these days with articles about Purpose, but I often wonder how much time their authors actually spend in the trenches with companies crafting and articulating Purpose statements and growth plans.
Over the last 12 months, we’ve helped nearly 100 food and beverage companies get clear on their Purpose and figure out how to bring it to life to drive growth and be a source of inspiration for their customers, employees and other stakeholders.
Articulating a company’s purpose and then aligning both the internal and external stakeholders and communication to that purpose is not easy. It requires a high level of vision and commitment from the leadership as well as the willingness to try on things that may feel uncomfortable. And it’s really easy to descend into what we call “Purpose-washing”, which is similar to greenwashing: just jumping on the purpose bandwagon, creating a new tagline and marketing campaign but not actually addressing the fundamentals behind Purpose.
Given how much time we spend in this space, I felt it was important to share a little about what we’ve learnt doing this work, so…without further ado, here are the 6 things we think you really need to know about Purpose!
1. Purpose is your Big Bang Moment.
Your Purpose is WHY you exist. It is the Big Bang moment of your business - the origin which you can trace everything back to.
You want to double your business? Great. But WHY?
You want to expand into new markets. Great. But WHY?
You want to hire a new manager. Great. But WHY?
And if the answer is “to make more money” then the answer to that is also WHY?
You want to keep asking WHY? until you trace everything back to that infinitely small yet powerful dot that sits at the heart of EVERYTHING you do and are.
When you come up with an answer that you don’t need to ask WHY to then you have your purpose!
And when, in your quest to ask WHY, you start to get into really big ideas, like “we want to make the world a better place” then start asking WHY that really matters to your business. What part of the world does your business really want to make better and WHY? That’ll help you land on a purpose that will still feel compelling and yet not generic.
2. Your Purpose is a decision-making tool.
Our purpose here at Provision is to make food sustainably. That’s WHY we exist. You can trace everything we do back to that point.
And, conversely, you can plot our future against it.
One of the things we hear most from the CEOs we work with is the relief that purpose brings.
Purpose is, after all, a hugely powerful decision-making tool. It allows leaders, who face the often impossible challenge of making hundreds of decisions each day, to have one simple decision-making framework.
Should you invest in this piece or that piece of new equipment? Should you co-pack or expand your own production? Should you hire two new staff or hold out until next quarter? The answer to all of these questions is the same: what will best serve your purpose?
This simple framework enables purpose-driven companies to achieve higher growth, to pivot faster in times of crisis and to deliver more client excellence. Simple, effective, decision-making.
3. A purpose is just words. How you bring it to life through action is what really matters.
Club Coffee has been manufacturing tea, coffee and other hot beverages for some of North America’s largest brands and retailers for over a century. The firm has always prided itself on both its innovation and its care for the environment and stands powerfully behind its purpose of “Brewing the Good in Coffee”.
But it’s not the purpose, in itself, that matters to its clients and consumers. It’s what the company does, how it brings that purpose to life. Example: the first fully compostable single-serve coffee pod.
The firm looked at the fact that there are over 10 billion single-serve coffee pods used each year just in North America, and realized that this was an area where they could authentically bring their purpose to life and take a stand on something that mattered to them and to their consumers.
Likewise, another firm that we have been privileged to work with over the years is Ice River Springs. They are a bottled water company that is committed to providing the benefits of bottled water without the environmental and social downsides.
Their purpose is “Redefining Bottled Water”, which is rather a bold statement, indeed. But, again, it is how they bring it to life that matters most. All Ice River bottles are green. Why? Because to bring to life their purpose, they bought a recycling facility, and used the most difficult coloured plastics to make their bottles, creating a completely closed loop system. They also invest in wetlands and watersheds, and for those hard to recycle bits like the bottle caps, they turn those into outdoor furniture.
I like to say that your purpose chooses you but that you get to choose how you bring your purpose to life. And choose wisely, because in the eyes of the rest of the world, that will be what you stand for.
4. Purpose tells you why. Your vision then says where you’re going.
How do you know where a bus is going? Because it shows the destination on the front. How do you know where a company is going? Because it has a vision.
Once you are clear on why your company exists, you can then decide where you want to go. What is the future that your company, driven by its purpose, wants to see? What is the future state that you want to be a part of generating?
Too often I see corporate visions that are either too internal or not ambitious enough.
Too internal, because they focus on things that only matter to the company (and potentially only to the company’s leadership). Common examples would be: we will be the largest manufacturer of XX in Canada, or we will be consumers’ first choice for Y. Think about this for a moment, if you walked into a company for the first time and saw that vision above the door, how inspired would you be?
A good vision is not about you, it’s about the world you are going to be a part of generating.
And it should articulate a future state that you do not yet know how to achieve. Simply put, if you know how to get there, it’s not a vision, it’s a goal.
Here at Provision our vision is a circular food system in Canada and beyond. That’s where we are going. That’s the future we want to be a part of generating. We don’t yet know how to get there. But everything we do points in that direction. And that’s how a vision should be.
So once you know your WHY - then decide on your destination, the future you want to help create.
5. Your people care a lot more about your purpose than you think.
The data today is undeniable: having a clear purpose - and acting to bring it to life – means you will be more likely (approx. 2/3 more likely in fact) to attract and retain good people.
Your people really care about your purpose. And they will care a lot more about your company because of your purpose. When you think about ways to bring your purpose to life, don’t just focus on your customers, but think about your employees as a group who deserve just as much attention. Your employees are your best ambassadors. You want them out in the physical and digital world talking about what your company stands for.
In the food and beverage industry we are not good at this. We have a tendency to consider our frontline workers (the “hourlies”) as being disposable, replaceable and not worthy of being engaged in anything more than a transactional relationship. This is a big mistake. Bring your purpose to life for them, and watch them bring your company to life. It’s that simple.
6. Your purpose connects directly to your call to action.
Ask any marketing person about a call to action, and they’ll wax lyrical about how you must always ask people to do something when you communicate with them. Whether it’s to pick up your product, or to “call now”, or to do this or not do that, every good communication should carry with it a call to action - either direct or indirect.
If your company doesn’t have a clear purpose, and you haven’t worked on bringing it to life, your call to action is probably about getting people to buy your products or services.
But when you have a purpose, one that’s bigger than you, that touches people’s hearts and minds and not just their wallets, then you have something a whole lot more exciting to enroll your customers (and future customers) in.
When you have a purpose, you want people to help you achieve it. If your purpose is to redefine bottled water, then what do you want people to do? You want them to consider the possibility that bottled water can bring benefit rather than harm to the planet and get excited about creating a new model to transform this industry. That’s a lot more exciting than asking people to buy a bottle of something that comes out of their tap anyway.
Thanks to your Purpose, your company can have a much bigger, more emotionally compelling, more exciting story to tell the world. And the honest truth is that more people are going to want to engage with that story and do the thing you are asking them to do, as a result.
P.S. Our Purpose is to help you make food sustainably; to bring that to life we want to help you uncover your Purpose. Reach out today to learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org
President & CEO