Clarity of Purpose

Whether you are a sports fan or not, one thing is clear in a sporting event.  There is clarity of purpose.  That being for your team to win, they must outscore the other team.  No ambiguity.  No complicated formula. Just a simple score shown throughout the game or match.  And that is why thousands of fans show up on any given day (often in loud, raucous and hilarious fashion) to cheer for their favorite team.  They understand the purpose and want to be part of the game even while paying a large sum of money to participate.  

What about clarity of purpose for your business?  Are you setting decibel rating records by the cheering of your employees?  Are they raving on social media and Glassdoor about their incredible work environment and commitment to the company purpose?  Are customers writing about their experiences and giving you 5 out of 5 stars on their favorite social site?

In recent months, several business owners have asked me what it takes to build a high-performance team that holds themselves mutually accountable.  While there are several components needed, there is one that must be preeminent … clarity of purpose.  A simple, clear understandable purpose around which can capture and engage the hearts of minds of employees and ultimately customers.  

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? But it isn’t.  First, our world is opposed to clarity of purpose. Information comes at us 24/7.  Change occurs in milliseconds and we feel the pressure to keep up continually.  Secondly, our own past company success blinds us from clarity as we embrace the status quo forgetting the past won’t survive into the future (e.g. Blockbuster, SonyWalkman, airplane meals, PalmPilot). Thirdly, we often lack the patience for strategic thinking and planning and engage in what we believe is more important- “getting stuff done”.

For you as a business owner, I can’t over emphasize the importance of clarity of purpose.  For your company and team to thrive and become a high performing team, clarity of purpose must be present.  Author Marcus Buckingham says it well, “Clarity is the antidote to anxiety and therefore clarity must be the preoccupation of the effective leader.”  

Let me share why this topic is so personal to me and why I desire for it to matter to you.  I started in the construction business when I was in my early 20’s.  My company served both the residential and the commercial marketplace for asphalt and concrete paving.  Truth be known, in the startup and survival phases, we served anyone who would call us. Equally true was that we weren’t very good at serving all markets and all people.  I had unhappy employees and unhappy customers since the standards and expectations of a commercial property manager and a homeowner are very different and we were often failing them all.  Employees were constantly asking me which direction where we headed and why.  

Looking back, I am grateful for that critical moment.  I had no choice but to seek clarity of purpose.  My employees were begging to know where we are going and what did we stand for?  I had to move from college textbook to real world leader and provide a clarity of purpose for the company.  After multiple meetings with employees and hours of personal reflection and thinking about a preferred future, I moved our company to commercial accounts, and a few select market segments.  We adopted a simple clarity of purpose as well – Commercial Pavement Solutions for Valued Partners.   If it sounds simple, it was meant to be.  

With our purpose in place, every other part of our business could be aligned to this goal.  Our purpose clearly stated what we provided, to whom we provided it, and essentially our value proposition. We developed sales, operations, customer service, and administration processes and systems to deliver on our purpose.

What I couldn’t anticipate was how dramatically clarity of purpose would affect my leadership credibility with the team.  With clarity came understanding, respect, engagement and creativity.  Alignment to the purpose was easy to see and we built a scoreboard that clearly communicated the score and our winning percentage.

So what is needed for you to obtain clarity of purpose for your business? Let me give you 15 questions that will stimulate your strategic thinking.  Take your time in answering and gathering the information over a period of months.  Write down all thoughts and learnings as this information will be critical to reaching clarity of purpose.

  1. What is my vision for the business, both short and long term?
  2. Am I willing to reinvent the company as needed to meet environmental and market demands?
  3. What am I personally passionate about?  
  4. What characteristics of customers do I want to do business with?  
  5. What culture do I want for the business?
  6. What culture do my employees desire?  How will I verify this?
  7. What values are foundational to me personally and to the vision I desire?
  8. Where are the opportunities in my industry in the next few years?
  9. Which opportunities excite me and my team?  Why?
  10. What competencies would be required to compete in the markets I desire?
  11. Which competencies do we possess now as a company?
  12. What competencies would need to be developed?
  13. What are the value propositions that customers desire in markets I want?  What must I do to verify this?  
  14. What would be necessary to re-align within the company to achieve my desired vision?
  15. What would be simple language, word pictures, and actions that would achieve clarity of purpose?  

Game day is every day in your company.  The same employees who were pumped up and loud at the weekend sports event are showing up and taking their seats in your company right now.  Will they stand and cheer for the team with enthusiasm or spend the day disengaged?  Your ability as a leader to bring clarity of purpose will be the difference in winning the day.  Let’s go coach – the team awaits the game plan.

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