The Power of Purpose

It was Steve’s big opportunity. He had a small budget and a great script. Enough to get his first feature film made. He also had a big star … 15 metres long big! His mechanical shark was set to be the big attraction for his debut film.

But as they got into production, the mechanical shark kept malfunctioning. Time and budget was tight, and the risk in stopping filming to fix the Shark each time it malfunctioned was significant, for it might have resulted in them running out of cash and canning the film all together. Steve and his team decided to pivot, adjust the script, and make the ‘unseen’ shark the new star, essentially shooting footage of the water instead, and adding some music to let the audience know Jaws was lurking nearby (dunt-dunt, dunt-dunt).

What looked like a colossal set back for Steven Spielberg, turned out to be an extraordinary opportunity to improve the film. What would Jaws be without the music and the tension of the unseen shark?

Fixing the obvious malfunction isn't the solution

Sometimes it takes a looming crisis to spur on an innovative new solution. But without courage, without vision, it’s easy to let group think keep focused on fixing the malfunction and sticking to the status quo rather than innovating.

In the age of massive disruption of industries, there are plenty of businesses freaking out that their big mechanical sharks are malfunctioning.

Some are spending time and money trying to fix them, but others are pivoting while they still have time and money to do so, and looking for another solution, another way to innovate and win, another way to move forward without the original star product or service keeping its status.

Online and offline disruption isn’t going to slow down. Traditional businesses can’t hide from the changing marketplace―but they can innovate. The opportunity is bleak if the focus remains on what they are losing, but it’s massive if they can shift their focus on what they can gain with a new, courageous strategy.

So how do they do it?

It starts with being purpose-led

Spielberg knew the purpose behind his film, so when the practical way he was going about bring that purpose to life didn’t work out, he could shift to find another practical way. The shark was never the point, the story was. For organisations, if the product is the point, then once that product stops working in the marketplace, they are lost. But if they are purpose led, and the product is just an expression of their purpose, they can pivot when a product or service is no longer relevant in the marketplace and have enough clarity and direction to find a new way to serve the marketplace with their purpose.

I recently spoke with Jennie McLaughlin, advisory partner and Purpose-led advocate at EY.

“Being purpose-led means the values that you have in your company are more important than potential revenue. Purpose comes before profit, and sometimes that means walking away from revenue that doesn’t align with your purpose.”

Jennie helps other organisations transition to become truly purpose-led, and it is something that her company, EY, knows a lot about. She shared with me the story of how EY, spurred on by the new incoming CEO, Mark Weinberger, made their own transition. Mark had travelled the world for 18 months in the lead up to his official start as CEO, visiting thousands of employees to work out what his strategy would be coming into his new role. In Mark’s wor, “In these conversations, I saw one unifying thread: the world was changing, and EY needed to change too.”

What is remarkable is Mark didn’t look at what products needed changing, but what was it about the organisation itself that needed changing. It wasn’t about product, but purpose. When they got that right, the right products would become more obvious. Weinberger explained. “If we wanted to unite our people around our new strategy, it wasn’t enough to just clarify what we wanted to do. We had to clarify why it was important to get there.”

EY is now one of the leading examples of how transforming a business to be truly purpose-led also leads to greater employee engagement, customer experience, and commercial success.

Purpose is not only important, but essential for today’s businesses

The world has fundamentally shifted in how it views business. It’s no longer about your impressive list of achievements. It’s about ‘who you are’ as an organisation. Consumers want to deal with organisations who have a purpose and live by it rather than a ‘vision’ that sits on their office walls but has little clout in how decisions are made.

An authentic purpose is what the marketplace is looking for, it’s also what employees are looking for—and if your executive team are seeking success, it’s something they should be looking for, too.

Article by Mick Mooney. Mick is the author of Meeting The Muse, and a speaker and trainer on business storytelling, effective communication, and connective leadership.

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