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Corporate Purpose

In today’s talk I’d like us to consider why a company’s strategy, the purpose of its existence, is so vital and how essential is the way we communicate it to our employees, these who are not in the group of founders of the organization. I wrote an article about it in the SaunaGrow blog. When I posted its link on Facebook’s “Start-up Talks”, an interesting debate broke out between what you can call two worlds – the first one of the people with the experience of being team and staff members at various companies, where I think the corporate purpose usually wasn’t sufficiently explained, and the other world – that of company founders – who realize the significance of providing such an explanation.

Most founders know exactly why their company was brought to life and what its key goal is. These initiators share the vision, the mission and the values of their organization. Moreover, they share the notion of what the company should work on in the current year, even next year; they understand why tasks are lined up this or that way, why team members are doing this and no other work at the moment. This situation often limits their understanding of how those who joined the organization later might feel, not sharing the values and the vision of the company purpose.

What consequences do we get from this gap? In the first place, a general frustration, the leaders, snowed under, micromanaging everything, the founders getting tired and burnt out, the staff stifled by lack of prospects and leaders’ support, both the staff and the leaders operating on two different frequencies. That’s when an organization may begin to falter, maybe not slide, but lose momentum.

This kind of ailment spreads fast, quietly and often unnoticeably. If not properly addressed, the disease propagates swiftly enough to make remedies hard to find. Even though the company might not collapse under this burden, its growth is likely to be handicapped and so is the personal growth of the staff. As the company loses its ties with its short and long-term goals, the leaders cease to propel the organization and begin to hold it back, getting frustrated and bringing their team down.

There is an activity I often use during leadership workshops, to practise this strategic transfer of values from founders to workers. It clearly shows the fundamental difference between a meaningful delivery of that “Why we do it?” message and just paying lip service, as so often happens. In the workshop activity, two groups receive the same task, but their performance is quite different. Not only does the first group score 9 out of 10 while the other scores 1 or 2, but also, due to some side factors, later observed and described by the participants, the defeated group feels extremely frustrated about the process of their work, whereas the winners feel satisfied and appreciated, in a word, a lot better. In the end, all participants realize that although both groups received the same assignment, it was presented to them in a totally different way, which deeply affected the final delivery.

If you are one of the company founders and your company is growing, you have to make sure that your managerial staff as well as any newcomer that joins the organization, have the mutual notion and confidence in what the company does and why it exists. This “Why?” must be appropriately communicated. I’m convinced that each of you has found yourself in a role of a founder or a staff member or both and you remember how you handled the flow of information both as its transmitter and recipient.

Following to the publication of my short article on this subject at the afore-mentioned “Start-up Talks” Facebook group (55 thousand members involved in founding, running or starting up  companies), it was clear to see that a number of the commentators don’t understand or approve of the meetings (or other communication forms, not necessarily meetings) devoted to explaining the company purpose. I think these individuals, and they said it independently, feel that way because in their experience the message about corporate purpose once was or is conveyed in a faulty way. They feel like cogs in a corporate machine and think the only goal of their organization is to make money, where the founders get the profit margin or dividends and the rest are on a salary.

This is, I believe, a deeply wrong understanding of the essence of the company’s operation and, more generally, of the nature of happiness, a happy work-life balance. If we reduce all our professional activities to a narrow capitalist view of profits, remunerations, expenses and revenues, we may lose the sight of something far more essential in our lives.

I hope you will be able to give it a thought and share your reflections with others. It can be a conversation among friends, if you happen to have them in the group of founders of a firm or an organization. Talk together, consider how your staff understand the corporate purpose and mission. Ask each other and compare how you get the message across to your employees about what the organization does, not only how but also why it does it, to avoid faults in this communication and to make sure you sound consistent. Do not limit these talks to your own firm. I strongly encourage you to find me on LinkedIn and tag me in your posts about it. I’ll be happy to be part of each of these discussions.

I do encourage you to share the good practices of how the corporate purpose message should be and shouldn’t be communicated, how to tell why your organization exists, what influence it has got on your and your employees’ lives.

I wish your staff never feels as if they were only gears in a money-making machine. Though such an understanding seems to ensue from the Commercial Companies Code, it is far too narrow for most founders of companies or start-ups in terms of the corporate purpose or mission.

I wish you best of luck

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