What’s the purpose of your organization? (No, that’s not a trick question.) Deb Lavoy and her colleagues at OpenText believe that answering that question is the first critical step every organization must take.
Putting their money where their mouth is, OpenText hosted on July 11 the first of what promises to be a thought-provoking series of conversations about the purpose-driven organization. The speaker at the event* was Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why. Drawing on examples as diverse as the civil rights movement, Navy SEALS, the Wright brothers, Apple and Disney, he explained that the primary role of a leader is to have a vision of the world as it can be, and then to articulate that purpose with enough clarity and energy so as to inspire others to work towards that purpose.
Granted it’s promotional material, but here’s a synopsis provided by his publishers:
In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way — and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be lead, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.
Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. WHY is not money or profit– those are always results. WHY does your organization exist? WHY does it do the things it does? WHY do customers really buy from one company or another? WHY are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?
Starting with WHY works in big business and small business, in the nonprofit world and in politics. Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.
Why does your organization need a well-articulated purpose? Simon Sinek believes that without a clear and compelling purpose, you cannot recruit, retain and inspire the highly motivated people who are so committed to a shared sense of purpose that they will move mountains to achieve it. It’s this willingness to go above and beyond that sets them, and ultimately their organization, apart.
For my readers in the legal industry, don’t assume that this conversation about purpose is only for our clients. Bruce MacEwen writing at Adam Smith Esq covered some of this territory in Thoughts on IBM’s 100th: Idea or Product, where he attributes IBM’s nimbleness and longevity to its view of itself “not as an organization creating products but as an organization loyal to an idea.” He then summarizes a list from The Economist of companies that are animated by ideas versus those focused on products:
- IBM: Package technology for use by business
- Apple: Package the latest technoology in simple, elegant form and sell it at a premium
- Amazon: Make it easy for people to buy stuff
- Facebook: Help people share things with friends easily
- Dell: Building PCs very very efficiently
- Cisco: Routers
- Microsoft: Windows
Taking this dichotomy straight to the door of law firms, he asks: “Are there firms premised on fealty to ideas and firms premised on selling products (practice areas)?” After naming a couple of firms that might be “idea” firms, and one sad example of a “product” firm, he reaches a sobering conclusion:
Alas, I suspect that law firms premised on a widely recognized idea are rare. Many would insist they are idea-based, but dig under the surface and I bet you’ll find a mutating assemblage of practice areas and geographies without–in most cases–an overarching idea that all the partners could tell you in their sleep motivates the firm.
If he is right about this, how will firms recruit, retain and motivate excellent people? How can firms ensure their own longevity? Is it really just about paying market salaries? I suspect it has a great deal more to do with the type of culture a firm nurtures, and the quality of the clients and work a firm attracts.
As we continue in this period of economic uncertainty, it’s worth considering whether your law firm, company, business unit, department, school or nonprofit has what it takes for the long haul. You should start by asking WHY.
If you’d like to hear more about the importance of knowing your purpose, here’s Simon Sinek’s very popular TED Talk:
*Disclosure: This event was sponsored by OpenText and free to the public.
[Photo Credit: Godserv]