We have a lot of conversations with people about branding, brand integrity and workplace culture, and almost inevitably, someone mentions Simon Sinek’s super popular TED Talk ‘Start with Why.’
The TED Talk, as they tend to, puts forth a great, straightforward idea and challenges people to carry it through. This is one of those deceptively simple ideas that can get really interesting in its execution.
Most business leaders/owners instinctively know that you want to ‘Start with Why’ although they likely wouldn’t have used those words. The leaders we speak with want to describe what matters to them in a concise, meaningful and inspiring way.
Of course, any business owner worth their salt will say they are in business ‘to make a profit, contribute to the economy, employ people…’ — which is valid. But it’s akin to saying that your heart beats to keep your blood flowing, rather than to give you life.
Finding that true purpose statement is far easier said than done. It’s even more challenging when the business is a partnership, or a collective, where each principal’s purpose statement is likely slightly (or magnificently) different.
When I was coming up through corporate culture, everyone was defining vision, mission and values (or mission, vision and values). I have spent many a Saturday afternoon in hotel meeting rooms trying to move forward while Board members debated whether they were fostering growth or growing.
The end result: a well-designed series of statements safely contained behind glass on every lunchroom wall.
‘Start with Why’ represents a model of thought based on a very traditional premise. This movement includes titles such as ‘Business on Purpose’ ‘Conscious Capitalism’ and ‘It’s Not What you Sell, It’s What You Stand for’. These models tend to be more complete, more reality-based and more stakeholder driven — so for me, they carry great value.
But they rely on a business having a strong, clear purpose — a statement people can be proud of, that can be translated into a brand promise and into commitments to staff, customers, other stakeholders and the environment (which, in conscious capitalism, is always a stakeholder).
A strong purpose statement is an incredible asset. It adds value to your brand, strengthens staff and customer loyalty and simplifies decision-making and priority setting. It also needs to be developed, well, on purpose.
The vast majority of sound purpose statements are sifted out of a greater body of work. Double bonus — because most organizations make great use of all surrounding work product. Purpose is the start — and the finish — of what we call our brand integrity process.
We start with a large body of primary and secondary research, and include a great deal of dialogue with the organization’s leaders, staff and stakeholders. We might look into history, contrast successes and failures, and ask pointed questions — whatever it takes. Then we take it all back and work to define a purpose statement that inspires, but remains credible, to reflect the best of what is currently going on.
From there, we work with our clients to create a forecast for the future of the organization. Next is a brand platform, which is the foundation for a brand revision and a communication strategy; and on a parallel path, a strategic plan, which leads into subsequent business plans and accountability measures.
It is a single system designed to effectively communicate who you really are, what you stand for and what you want to achieve. In the end, if your articulated and demonstrated purpose aligns with your stakeholders’ world views — you have loyalty.
In Dianne Feinstein’s words, ”Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.”
Brand integrity matters — to the quality of your business life, to your stakeholders, and to your bottom line.
And that’s a key piece of our ‘Why’.