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Lisa Earle McLeod: Committed to Noble Purpose

As human beings we are hardwired to seek meaning and purpose in our lives. Nowhere is this more important than work, where we spend so many of our waking hours.

Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, explains, “This is a world where purpose matters more than ever before. I get inspired by being a part of a purpose. You want to be part of something that really matters, something that really makes a difference.”

I created the concept “Noble Purpose,” and a methodology behind it to help leaders accelerate growth and establish competitive differentiation. A Noble Purpose is a clear and succinct statement about the impact your organization has on customers. It’s the jumping off point for a strategic initiative that includes every facet of your organization.

It’s not enough to say, “We want to be ethical, provide value and make money while we’re doing it.” That kind of milquetoast messaging doesn’t provide direction for employees, nor does it create competitive differentiation.

Noble Purpose is:

1. Specific

When we began working with Cleveland-based Explorys, they were a startup with big dreams to transform health care. Working with their leadership team, we crafted the Noble Purpose: “We unlock the power of big data to improve health care for everyone.” It’s short, and it describes their customer impact. Four years later, after living and working their purpose everyday, they’re one of the largest health care databases in the world. They were acquired by IBM because of their market leadership.

2. Customer-focused

Organizations that try to crowbar shareholders, employees, the community, suppliers, etc. into their purpose wind up with no purpose at all. Organizations whose purpose is improving the lives of their customers outperform the market by over 400 percent (documented by Jim Stengle and Millward Brown Optimar study). Noble Purpose organizations deliver a better return to shareholders and engage employees because they rally people around the cause called customers. Our client Jim Cullinan, vice president of sales and marketing for Kaiser Permanente, notes, “Purpose is a force multiplier.”

3. Strategic

Noble Purpose doesn’t change with the season. It’s the driving force of your strategy. My mentor, legendary consultant Alan Weiss says, “Noble Purpose is like your mission on steroids.” It tells your team and the market, who you are and who you are not.

4. Decision-making tool

When it’s clear, succinct and customer focused, your Noble Purpose becomes a lens for daily decision-making. It prompts questions like: “Is this in alignment with our purpose? Is this the most powerful way to accomplish our purpose? Is this the most profitable way to live our purpose?” Noble Purpose tells you when to say yes, and when to say no.

What it’s not:

1. Philanthropy

Make no mistake, Noble Purpose is a commercial model. The noble element is about the value you create for customers. It’s the lynchpin of your go-to-market strategy. Noble Purpose organizations are generous, but their prime focus is customer value.

2. A feel-good HR program

Noble Purpose organizations have KPIs that measure customer impact. They’re relentless about competitive differentiation. They may or may not offer foosball tables and free vegan lunches. People love working for Noble Purpose companies for one reason: They’re on fire about the impact they have on customers.

3. A tagline

Marketing campaigns come and go; Noble Purpose is constant. When you align your strategy, business model and metrics around the impact you want to have on customers, you establish true competitive differentiation. And you create a tribe of True Believers who drive revenue through the roof.