Sunday 6 April 2008

The very core of it

A company’s core purpose is the organisation’s fundamental reason for being. I know, there is such a strong view in the world that it is all about money. And if it is then why not have a mission statement that goes “We exist to make money.” Doesn’t sound that inspiring does it.

The world seems to becoming more and more cynical that it is not easy to get people’s spiritual juices stirred up. That’s why I love writing these pieces. The challenge has never been greater. No one has any time on their hands to think about the bigger picture. Everyone is so busy scheming and dealing, trying to get to their hands on the next million smackers. So, let’s jump right in. Here are some examples of core purpose from the world’s visionary corporations. Read these over and over. Hewlett-Packard’s purpose: To make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity. Merck’s purpose: To preserve and improve human life. Disney’s purpose: To make children smile. Wal-Mart’s purpose: To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich folk. Sony’s purpose: To experience the joy of advancing and applying technology for the benefit of the general public. McKinsey’s purpose: To help leading corporations and governments be more successful. Marriott’s purpose: To make people away from home feel they’re among friends and really wanted. General Electric’s purpose: To improve the quality of life through technology and innovation. I think you get the idea. A company exists to do something beyond just making a profit.

A company is formed by a group of people who share a common vision and have common values. They ultimately want to leave a legacy. They want to make a difference in the world. They want to do the things they love to do. History has taught us that all the great companies, the real companies, the visionary ones, are those that were built as a labour of love.

If business is all about making money then each one of these great companies could have just added the words “make money” after the word “to” as in, “Our purpose is to make money.” Then all these companies would be the same. Rather boring isn’t it. Hey, what I am saying is simple. Even if money is the centre of your world then lie about it. You are not going to inspire anyone to work for you, over you, under you, with you, in fact, anywhere near you if you only talk about money. And who knows, you might even start believing that your life has more meaning if you start thinking about making a difference to other people’s lives. In one of my favourite books, Built to Last (where much of the above insight comes from), the author’s say “An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work – it taps into their idealistic motivations – rather than just describing the organizations output or target customers. It captures the soul of the organization.”

How does one know what they were put on this Earth for? Every person has God given talents. Every person has something inside them that they love doing. We all love to talk and express ourselves. This is what makes us human beings. We all have passions. When passion becomes purpose and purpose becomes passion then the wonderful becomes familiar and the familiar wonderful. In other words, when you do what is in your heart then real happiness follows. Merck was a doctor. Disney was a child at heart. Hewlett and Packard loved technology. And so it goes for the founders of these great institutions. The problem in this day and age is that all too often we only see are the end results of their years of commitment to what they believed in. Life is a journey. So don’t focus on the destination.

I have highlighted this quote from the founders of the Merck pharmaceutical many times. I think we should have a look at it again. George Merck II made a speech in 1950 to his management where he explores their reason for being, “We try to remember that medicine is for the patient. We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.” Merck’s wisdom describes the relationship between purpose, trust and profit. Merck never said he never liked or disliked money. He simply stated that money is not what his company is about. Merck saves people’s lives with medicine. And the more they do that the more people trust them to do it time and time again. And the more people trust them the more they spent on Merck’s medicines. And the rest is history. Merck and his son were passionate about medicine. And their labour of love resulted in the world conspiring to reward them. They made a positive difference in the world. A difference that people respected and rewarded.

Greed is what motivates so many people these days. The world is obsessed with money. Merck’s speech was made 50 years ago but it’s really way ahead of its time. Merck represents the qualitative view on life; the paradoxical yet genius view that one can make a difference AND make a profit. Too many people are trapped by the tyranny of the “OR”, the quantitative view that one can make a difference OR make a profit. Merck never said anything against profit making. But then he never said anything for it either. He simply said that saving life was their core purpose. And the more they are true to that purpose the more the world rewards them. I know it is easy for us to look at companies like Merck and cynically say, “They got lucky” because we only focus on the wealth they have created - we do not see the journey they went on, only the destination. Luck has nothing to do with it. We need faith, and we need patience. Always try and remember that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. And furthermore, it has often been said that an overnight success can take 20 to 30 years.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker