The power of purpose is a huge key to building a successful business. Most successful entrepreneurs can clearly articulate why they’re doing what they’re doing. Having a clear and motivating purpose gets you through the challenging times you’ll face, sets a higher standard of excellence for your business, entices team members to join you in your cause, and attracts and keeps customers who love what you’re doing. Let’s discuss each of these benefits in more detail.
1. Purpose provides staying power.
I think the best book ever written on the power of purpose is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Prior to World War II, Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist in private practice in Vienna. In 1942, he and his family were sent to various concentration camps by the Nazis. Frankl was the only one to survive; the rest of his family, including his wife, died in the camps.
During his time in the camps, being a psychiatrist, he was extremely interested in the human dynamics he saw there, particularly in who lived and who died. Frankl observed that it wasn’t the physically biggest or strongest who survived, but those who found some kind of meaning in their suffering. In other words, those who found purpose in their lives, even in the midst of misery, continued to live. Those who lost all purpose in their lives died.
Frankl also noticed that the highest number of deaths in the camp occurred in January. Mentally, these unfortunate prisoners had decided they could not bear another year in the camp and had counted on being released before the end of the year. When the New Year came and went and they were still imprisoned, they gave up and died. Hence, Frankl’s now-famous words: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose ... He who has a WHY to live, can bear with almost any HOW.”
This same principle is critical in building a successful enterprise. My observation is that most businesses take longer, cost more, and earn less than you think, at least in the short run, and there are lots of bumps and bruises along the way. If you’re only doing it for the money, it’s too easy to bail out when the road gets rocky. However, if you really believe in what you’re doing, it’s much easier to find the strength to first survive and then thrive. You’ll enjoy the journey more and believe it will all be worth it in the end. In fact, I don’t think you can build a successful business in the long run if you don’t have a higher purpose than financial gain.
2. Purpose encourages excellence.
If you have a clear purpose for your business and are in it for the long haul, you do things differently from those who want to get in and out quickly. When your driving purpose is strong, everything you do is consistent with that. The things you do are important now, and your fulfillment happens in real time. You aren’t doing things to make more money in the short run so you can have a more lucrative exit. You create great products for your customers because it’s critical to your purpose. You hire and train excellent team members because it’s vital to your purpose. You give phenomenal customer service because it’s essential to your purpose. You offer authentic service to your community because it’s integral to your purpose. These practices aren’t means to an end; they are ends in and of themselves. This consistency of purpose leads to higher standards of excellence, superior processes, and better results in the long run.
3. Purpose entices team members.
If you have an engaging purpose and can communicate it clearly, it will help you attract a supporting cast around your business. Your supporting crew may include mentors, advisors, team members, and strategic partners. When people love what you’re doing and can express their own values by working with you, they’re much more likely to join your cause. These are people who can help you effectively grow your enterprise.
Having an exciting purpose beyond making money is particularly attractive to the new Millennial generation. Millennials are those born between 1982 and 2000; this group includes 83 million people and makes up 26 percent of the U.S. population. It’s the largest generational group in the history of our country. Tons of research has been done on Millennials, and one finding continues to surface. Millennials are a value-driven generation: They care about the values of the companies they buy from and the companies they work for, and they want to participate in meaningful work in their careers.
I teach Millennials at my university, and most tell me they’d rather work for a company with an exciting purpose than one without a compelling mission -- even if it means a lower salary. Since Millennials will make up the majority of the workforce in coming years, having a clear and engaging purpose will become even more critical to building successful teams.
4. Purpose attracts and keeps customers.
Dale Aramaki owns the Phillips 66 gas station in my neighborhood. He’s an excellent mechanic, gives superior service, offers great prices, hires kids from the neighborhood, and participates in community activities. Dale is my car guy. When I need gas, I go to Dale. When I need inspections, I go to Dale. When I need repairs, I go to Dale. I don’t shop around, I don’t check prices, and I don’t go to other service stations. Why? Because Dale loves being in our neighborhood, has a genuine desire to meet our needs, and has become an integral part of our community.
In his excellent book Start with Why, Simon Sinek makes a very compelling point: People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Consequently, companies that have a powerful purpose do better than companies that don’t. Their customers become fiercely loyal and don’t shop elsewhere. They become Apple gals (“Think different”). They become Lexus guys (“The relentless pursuit of perfection”). They become Whole Foods families (“Whole foods, whole people, whole planet”).
When people understand that your purpose is to create jobs in the city, solve an ongoing problem, provide phenomenal customer service, revitalize Main Street, address a health issue, or give back to the community, they are more inclined to support your business. They become loyal fans who only buy certain products or services from you, which is far better than constantly having to sell features and benefits. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.