When Should My Organization Invest in Purpose?

Choosing the right time to solicit professional help to develop a purpose for an early stage company can be the difference between a lasting result, or many do-overs.

 
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I’m sitting across the table from a founder. They’re so excited that they trip over their words to express all the potential they see in their company. I even had a founder once run out of air because she forgot to breathe between sentences.

The dialogue moves toward a close and I ask, “How can I help you?”

The response is usually, “Well, when should I invest in this stuff?”

Many companies, especially those just getting started in today’s market, are already convinced that having a purpose will benefit their business. In some cases, the founding team has even tried to come up with one a few times.

Some will hit the mark successfully and move forward. Others - dare I say, most - will determine that they need a professional to help them solidify their purpose and build out the rest of their strategy.

I firmly believe that an organization’s purpose is a lynch pin to achieving success, especially as the marketplace grows more crowded. While the inclination is to rush out, pick a name and secure a logo, these actually aren’t the most important things to do. Just because they are tangible (and let’s not kid ourselves, fun), the critical work lies in understanding why the business exists in the first place so that value can be clearly shared with others.

Back to my conversation with the founder, who’s trying to determine when they should seek professional support as opposed to rolling up their sleeves and doing it themselves. When I’m talking to a newer company, I ask the following questions:

  • Why does your company exist and why does it matter?

  • Whose life do you make better and how?

  • What exactly do you do? Can you define your product or service?

If you cannot answer these questions, I would advise you to wait and keep your focus on solidifying yourself as a company. Let me qualify this by saying that by answer, I’m not expecting linguistic brilliance - just a clear and concrete understanding of each of the points my questions address.

Once you can answer these three questions effectively, the when of the investment becomes about four other factors. When you can agree with each of the following statements, you'll know the time is right to look at investing in a strategic initiative:

1. Everyone is on board.

The most effective sessions I have led are the ones where the entire leadership, and even the team for smaller companies, is on the same page about the importance of developing a purpose and investing the resources to produce one.

If your group has any naysayers who don’t understand why time or money is being spent developing a purpose, mission, vision - and everything else - it will take away from the process. These individuals tend to force the group to rush through things or cause interference in the feedback process with detracting or absent points of view, which can result in more problems later.

If you’re unsure how your company would handle working through a process with a professional to refine a purpose, take the time to talk about it as a group instead of making a unilateral decision. The former will usually promote greater buy-in.

2. The finances are there.

It may sound blunt, but the initiatives that produce the best return are the ones where the organization had enough money to pay for the support it needs to begin with - whatever that support might be.

Take time to investigate who you might want to work with, determine their price range, and make sure you have the capital you need to engage them before reaching out to get started.

The alternative is working with someone you already think is sub-par, or cutting away deliverables so that you only have a one-armed paper hanger of a strategy.

If these are the options you’re facing, consider keeping the money and saving it until you have what you really need to do a thorough job.

3. The team has spent real time talking to customers.

One of the biggest challenges I run into when working with companies and nonprofits is that they don’t know who they’re serving or what matters to those people.

While developing a purpose starts with your internal team, it is hopefully focused on making the world better. You can only continue to do your work if the people out in that world get on board and buy into what you’re doing. That means you need to know what motivates them, what problems you can solve for them, and of course, what matters to them.

Additionally, as you work through a vision, mission, values and yes, customer persona, you will need to get more specific. The best way to know your people is to go out and talk to them. Early stage companies have the advantage because they’re small and often more able to get facetime.

 

4. There’s enough time to make the initiative a priority.

One of the biggest mistakes I see, especially with early stage companies, is the impulse to throw something together quickly, which often results in the company spending a lot of time rebranding and restrategizing.

That need for speed can hurt your strategic efforts and ultimately cost you more over the long run because you waste valuable time and resources redoing the work. As your company grows, this sort of pattern will only make success harder to achieve.

When you talk as a group about investing in the process in the first place, make sure that you can devote not only the financial resources, but also the time and attention the process requires.

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Once you have made the investment in creating a purpose, make sure you embed it properly to get the full return on your work.

What does that mean? Well, if nobody tells the new people at your company about the purpose, or reminds the current team, slowly but surely, it will be forgotten. What’s worse, your actions as a company certainly won’t align around it.

That means you either won’t reap the full benefits of having a core purpose or you’ll spend a lot of money redoing, realigning, and rebranding to make it work.

And why would you want to invest more than you need to?

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by Katie Burkhart

Katie is analytical cross-connector and purpose-driven strategist simplifying big ideas into actions. She is also the Founder and CEO of Illumyne.

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Katie Burkhart