It has often been stated by business consultants and startup advisors that a company should have a purpose beyond profit. A Harvard Business Review study shows that employees who derive meaning from their work report higher job statisfaction and are more engagement and more likely to stay. A We First study shows that consumers are more likely to switch brand and to help you promote your brand if your company is purpose-driven. Simon Sinek states that people don't buy or follow what you do, they buy or follow why you do it.
I agree. That was the easy part. But how do you actually define a good purpose? After all, people – employees and customers alike – have to feel that your purpose is aligned with their own values. I think that a purpose needs to be grand and broad enough to inspire, yet it needs to be specific enough to answer sentiments such as "everybody can claim that, how are you different?". I think a purpose needs to target a specific demographic, just like a business needs to target a specific customer base, and the targeting needs to be strong enough to show off your differentiating factor, yet if the targeting is too strong then your own employees who have secondary/supportive roles (who are also very important) may feel alienated.
Furthermore, how grand does a purpose need to be? Tesla's purpose is to save the world by accelerating the adoption of renewable energy. But I don't have a bag of $100MM VC money; I can't say with a straight face that my purpose is in the order of "change the world". Not until I have grown my company enough to the point where that is a realistic outcome. Would a smaller purpose also suffice?
Finally, some people are skeptical of this whole purpose thing. Amazon's mission statement doesn't seem very purposeful compared to those of for example Facebook:
"Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."
"To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."
Yet Amazon is very successful and people are much more positive about Amazon than Facebook. If purpose drives profit, what drives Amazon? (I found this accidentally by Googling for "amazon purpose")
Researching other brands
What makes a purpose good? How do you go about defining a good purpose? Perhaps I can find some answers by analyzing the vision statements and communications of those brands whose purpose people are most motivated by.
But maybe I don't have to look at the top brands only. Maybe I can look closer to home. Zapier is a tool that I use regularly with much satisfaction, and this is what their Crunchbase and LinkedIn profile says:
We believe that there are jobs that a computer is best at doing and that there are jobs that a human is best at doing. We want to empower businesses everywhere to create processes and systems that let computers do what they are best at doing and let humans do what they are best at doing.
We believe that with the right tools, you can have 10X the impact with less work.
In any case, it is clear that a purpose can't be forced top-down. It cannot be disseminated – employees have to co-create it with their leaders. It is also clear that a purpose cannot just be a piece of text: the purpose has to be apparent through all internal and external communications and actions.
Besides researching those brands, I will have further reading to do. Here are articles I plan to read in the near future: