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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Are You Doing It? : Purpose and Mission First

A CEO from a company I worked for was once asked by a popular business author, "What is the core function of your business?"  The CEO posted his response in an internal letter and determined our core function as getting customers through registers quickly.  I reread the article three times to see if I missed something, because here was the head person of the company not understanding the heart of the company that pumps life through it.  He asked for input, and I responded.  Whether my response struck a nerve or not I don't know, but he later posted it in another internal communication to the company and it is now the theme of everything we do.  Actually it was already the theme, and I just brought it to his attention and it's highlighted more often now.  It is disheartening at times when I come across leaders of companies and business people who struggle to identify the purpose and mission of their company.  It is like getting on a plane to go to somewhere just to get there and once you land . . . that's it.  This is the approach and one of the main reasons companies fail today in my opinion.  They are lost in terms of why they actually exist.

Purpose is about understanding why you exist as a business.  My wife started in Real Estate at the worst possible time . . . the decline of the market.  She struggled the first few years like many people.  We went through all the advice of others, read the books and articles, so forth and so on.  I always thought something was missing.  When we came to a "crossroads" a few years ago and had to make a hard decision whether we could afford for her to continue, I asked her one question "Why do you want to do this?"  She said in frustration, "Because I just want to help people buy and sell houses.  I love doing that."  That was the 'something' that was missing.  She found her purpose, and then we formulated and put into place the plan that 100% focused on her doing that.  And she's doing that everyday now.  There are a few common pitfalls I find when people seek to identify their purpose and attempt to answer the question "Why are you doing this?":
  1.  To "make money" is not a purpose.  Money is a result of your efforts.  It's a resource to continue your operations.  It's NOT a purpose, because it's too vague and quite frankly is about greed and selfishness when business is about serving unselfishly.  Money as a purpose will never offer you a clear path to success or achieving your goals.You'll start down "the path" and will find your yourself constantly off-track.
  2. Don't be vague, but be short and to the point.  Your purpose is reason you exist and should be the theme which seeps into every aspect of your business day in and day out.  For example, "being the best in my industry" is not a purpose.  It's vague and has no heart to it.  And, yes, heart has a place in the business world.  "To help people buy and sell houses", "putting the book in the customer's hand", "providing office solutions for local businesses", etc. are all examples of laser-focused purposes.
  3. Be disciplined as you grow to never forget your purpose.  As businesses grow and get busier with a great deal of new things and factors "pulling" at it everyday, it's very easy to lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing.  Post it up on the wall right where you'll see it everyday if you have to.
Now that you know why you exist and are doing what you do, now you can formulate your mission.  Mission as it regards to business is defined as "A brief description of an organization's purpose with reference to its customers, products or services, markets, philosophy, and technology."  This is where you truly define what your are going to do and hone in on some specifics.  Your mission should live and breathe in everything you do and every decision you make.  It should be alive throughout your organization and communicated to your customers.  From your mission you can then truly layout your specific goals which will keep you on path to fulfilling your mission. 

Over the last few years I have heard time and time again the woes of business people and the impact of the "economy" on their business.  They are pointing fingers at everything and everyone to identify why they are struggling.  Then when I look further at what they are doing or even ask them, they have no idea why they are in the business they are in.  To use the cliche', if I had a dime for every time I heard "to make money" I would be a very rich man.  Obviously, "the economy" will impact that and my response is then go do something else.  The economy in my opinion can not be an excuse if you have never truly identified your purpose and defined your mission.  "The economy" is beyond your control and will effect each business and industry differently.  But if you are not controlling what you can such as understanding your purpose and defining your mission, I do not agree that it can be used as an excuse.  Real estate has its challenges and the economy has had it's obvious impacts on the industry.  We use that information to make business decisions.  There are down times and "the economy" pops up in conversation from time to time at which time I squelch the conversation and always go back to the purpose and mission.  That's when it becomes a conversation of what to tweak or change.  It becomes about what we can do and not about what we can't.

I guarantee (and I never say that lightly) that if you truly identify your purpose and define your mission this beginning of the new year you will begin to see positive things happen in your business and life.  If you truly live and breathe those every day in every thing you do and every decision you make, you will see amazing things happen around you.  You will also find yourself rarely ever saying "the economy" or any other excuse for not succeeding.  If you don't succeed you will truly become aware of the fact that when you point your finger at others . . . there are three pointing back at you.  Success is never a guarantee, but if all you are doing is making excuses about things that are not within your control and not optimizing the the things you can control . . . there is no excuse for the lack of success but you.  Have a great 2011.
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