When our firm introduced the concept of noble purpose, we weren’t very systematic. It was hit-or-miss, just getting by and figuring things out along the way with our clients. I’m grateful to those early adherents, and with their help, we’ve codified the process into five phases for creating an organization with noble purpose:
1. Start by answering the three big discovery questions.
Those questions are:
• How do you make a difference?
• How do you do it differently from your competition?
• On your best day, what do you love about your job?
Clarify your customers’ identity, decide who is and who isn’t your customer, and prioritize your constituents. Next, informed by discovery questions and customer clarity, craft your noble sales purpose, or NSP, a declarative statement that becomes the gestalt of your organization. It’s noble, in the sense of service of others. Sales, based on what you actually sell. Purpose, your endgame. For example, two client NSPs are “We care about delivering amazing travel experiences” (Flight Centre) and “We make transportation safer, faster and more reliable.” (Graham-White). Your NSP is the jumping off point for a noble purpose strategy that cascades down into every level of your organization.
2. Prove your noble purpose.
This step is about creating your narrative. Codify the impact you have on customers using stories and data. Identify compelling examples of how your purpose affects people’s business and their lives. Personalize your message to explain why your purpose matters to you, as the leader. Choose one or two noble purpose accelerants. These are quick wins and decisions that let the rest of your organization know you’re serious about the process. For example, one client changed a pricing policy; another redid the customer reports.
3. Launch your noble purpose.
Now it’s time to win hearts and minds. In this phase, you’ll activate noble purpose across departments. Each team should identify the impact it has on customers and how its work fits into the larger whole. Individuals should have an opportunity to connect your purpose to their role, and their own aspirations for their jobs. This phase is about helping your team internalize your strategy. Don’t just repeat it; allow them to process it and apply it.
4. Animate your noble purpose.
This is where you bring your customers to life in every corner of your organization. Using visuals, stories and actual customers, make sure that each department is exposed to these customers in vivid, compelling ways. For example, one of our clients has customer photos on the wall, and another brings actual customers into product-development meetings.
You will want to introduce your narrative on noble purpose into your external marketing. It’s also time to start practicing fearlessly forward decision-making. Look at where you’re in alignment with noble purpose and where you’re not – and create a Start, Stop and Strengthen list.
5. Imbed your noble purpose.
This is how you create a system that lives beyond you. You’ll want to imbed your noble purpose into performance reviews, recruiting and ongoing processes. It’s the least sexy part of the process, but it’s critical to keep it alive and gain competitive differentiation. It’s a sequential process, although not always perfectly linear.
My oldest daughter, a millennial who has worked with us on several big projects, says, “It’s like raising a child. You do a lot in the beginning. You keep teaching the same lessons, over and over again. Then, eventually, you get to the point where you’re mentoring a self-sustaining entity.”