I was recently invited to give a keynote speech about Purposology at an event for the leaders of primary schools who wanted to sustain their Outstanding status. It was very interesting to see how the principles of using purpose that I had identified within the charity sector and the corporate world could be applied to the world of education.
We looked at how a school could better define and communicate its purpose, something that is can sometimes be taken for granted by schools rather than actively communicated. We also looked at how pupils and parents could be further engaged using purpose.
I was really impressed that leaders of high performing schools were still looking to improve and that were open to inspiration and ideas from other sectors.
Here is some of the feedback about my keynote speech…
“Thought provoking, inspiring, motivating”
“Very refreshing and inspirational with lots of practical examples”
“Purposology was the most valuable part of the day – good to look at leadership from another perspective”
“The Purposology presentation was particularly interesting and well prepared”
“Interesting and motivational ideas from Carla Miller”
“Purposology speech was well delivered and made us think about why/how we are doing things”
“Purposology was very inspiring and gave us a good perspective outside education to reflect on”
To book me as a keynote speaker at your event contact me.
The Paradigm Project is starting a conversation about fuel efficient cook stoves to bring to light the issues that many women in Africa face when walking up to 15 miles to find wood to cook food. Their Woodwalk campaign is a 10 day walk from San Diego to LA during which the participants will carry 50lb bundles of wood on their backs.
You can read the article and excellent analysis of how this organisation has approached things differently in the Fast Company article.
If you were going to bring your cause to life in this way, what would it look like?
Here’s another Purposology case study – this one is informed largely by the excellent ’Mavericks At Work‘ by William C Taylor and Polly LaBarre.
Southwest Airlines revolutionised the airline industry in the USA by being the first airline to offer direct flights between local cities in the region and a no frills offering with a emphasis on customer service (take note Ryan Air!).
Its purpose is ‘ to democratize the skies – to make air travel as available and flexible for average Americans as it has been for the well to do.
Southwest has been profitable every year for 31 years since it started its operations in 1971. During this period most airlines have struggled to achieve three or four years of consecutive profitability. In 2002, the total market value of Southwest was $9 billion, larger than that of all the other major airlines in the US put together. The airline achieved high levels of employee satisfaction and was included in the Fortune magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” for three years in a row. Many analysts feel that the remarkable performance of Southwest is because of its ability to build and sustain relationships characterized by shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect between employees.
Southwest was a client of GSD&M, an inspiring agency in Texas which provides purpose-based branding. GSD&M is led by Roy Spence and employs a Chief Purposologist, Haley Rushing. Spence is adamant about the strategic lessons behind his client’s remarkable flight path. He believes that Southwest didn’t flourish just because its fares were cheaper than Delta’s or because its service was friendlier than the not-so-friendly skies of United. Spence says that Southwest flourished because it re-imagined what it means to be an airline. In fact Spence insists that Southwest isn’t in the airlines business. It is, he argues, in the freedom business.
Southwest’s mission drives its business strategy, its advertising (“You are now free to move about the country”) and its internal communication. Employees at Southwest have Eight Freedoms that define the working experience at the airline – including “the freedom to learn and grow”, “the freedom to create financial security”, “the freedom to work hard and have fun” and “the freedom to create and innovate”.
Those freedoms “got to the very core of what the experience of working at Southwest is about” says Libby Sartain, formerVP of the People Department. “The message was, ‘You’re not just loading a bag in the belly of that plane, you’re not just serving cocktails, you’re not just creating a budget or writing software. You are giving people the freedom to fly. Its your efficiency and ingenuity that allows us to keep offering our low fares and keeps our planes in the sky.”
Southwest was the only US airline that didn’t make redundancies after 9/11 when the rest of the industry cut flights by 20% and laid off 16% of employees. It was losing millions of dollars each day in the weeks in the wake of the terrorist attacks but it wished to protect the jobs of its people. A spokesman at the time said ”Its part of our culture. We’ve always said we’ll do whatever we can to take care of our people. So that’s what we’ve tried to do.” Southwest was the only airline to remain profitable in every quarter since the September 11 attack.
Southwest Airlines is an excellent example of a company that puts purpose at the heart of its business and has stuck to its values even in hard times. It is well loved by its customers and has proved that being purposeful can be hugely profitable.
What’s the purpose of your organisation? Is it inspiring enough to engage all your audiences? Is it embedded enough to see you through a crisis?
This week I’ve interviewed Tim Bourne, co-founder of Red Ant Consulting who specialise in helping organisations realise the full potential of their collaborations and partnerships. They focus on performance, strategy, operations, roles and capability.
I met Tim when he was facilitating a 4-way partnership between Vodafone UK Foundation and 3 charities, including Samaritans where I was leading the fundraising function. He later became my coach and over the past 8 years I’ve watched him and his business partner Craig evolve Red Ant so I was keen to catch up and see what role purpose has to play in effective collaboration and partnership.
Q: What was your journey to starting Red Ant?
Craig and I had been working in the same team at Vodafone delivering a mixture of internal consultancy, project and programme management, team leadership, strategy, coaching and partnerships with third sector. We were keen to spend more of our time doing the work that we enjoyed most – helping a variety of organisations find the right strategy and turning that into operational practices. So 8 years ago we made the leap to business owners with the hope of more fulfilment rather than becoming millionaires!
Q: Was Red Ant’s purpose always about collaboration?
Well it was but it took us 4 or 5 years to realise that! At that point, during one of our regular reviews of our business and work undertaken, we realised that collaboration was a common theme in everything we had done. We had labelled it in various ways but in each of our engagements we were helping to improve collaboration and partnership working. One of our first few engagements for example was developing a business planning process in a public private partnership which continues to this day. We also supported a charity-corporate partnership which was experiencing issues in working together and had a lack of shared understanding so we provided a project manager who acted as intermediary to bridge the two cultures. We realised that collaboration is what we do. We enjoy it, we do it very well and our clients engage us to help them collaborate so it ticks all the boxes for us.
Q: When you help organisations with collaboration what do you actually do?
We often start with a health check of collaborations and partnerships, ideally at the beginning of the partnership. That is a 3 day process which involves interviewing key stakeholders in all the organisations involved and gathering information from them. We then measure that information against a very structured framework we have developed based on the main factors that over the years we’ve found are the most important to make collaboration a success. Next we lead a workshop with all parties where we share the results from the framework and develop targets against 30 or so factors for success. That leads to an action plan which the partners can implement themselves or Red Ant can help them with developing measures, project and programme management and exit strategies.
Q: What role does purpose play in effective collaboration?
Purpose is vital to collaboration. The 30 key factors which are critical for collaboration success are placed in 4 categories and one entire category is devoted to vision and strategy – and purpose is right at the heart of that. Purpose impacts the quality of leadership, the engagement of everyone involved and the legacy of the project. Many of the problems we come across crop up when a collaboration believes it is clear on its purpose but actually it hasn’t been fully thought through. In our maturity model for partnerships we produce best practice profiles and those collaborations which are the most mature and effective have really nailed their purpose. Without nailing it you can stumble pretty quickly.
Q: How do you know if a collaboration has nailed its purpose?
If you’ve really nailed purpose it is easier to communicate – so a lot more people should be able to articulate it clearly. You also see it in the engagement levels of everyone involved.
Q: Does purpose need to be inspirational?
Purpose has got to be inspirational! Most collaboration projects that work and have longevity and a legacy need to inspire all the members of the partner organisations, not just those running the project on a day to day basis. The purpose of any collaboration must really align with the purpose of each individual organisation so that everyone is inspired.
Q: Finally, who is Red Ant’s ideal client (in case they are reading this now)?
Red Ant’s ideal client already knows the value of collaboration and is asking the question “ I wonder if this partnership is operating as well as it can?”. Collaboration can be internal as well as external, for example it can help to influence a silo mentality within an organisation. In a very quick engagement we can give people an insight into whether there are opportunities to improve performance and we’re happy to meet prospective clients face to face to explore that together. Visit our website or contact us on 0845 644 7807 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Apple is one of the most admired brands in the world and Steve Jobs is the most talked about CEO in the world. It recently became the second most highly valued publicly traded company in the world. It’s a company known for its innovation and its ability to create game-changing products that customers desire and are proud to own.
I am keen to find out what role, if any, purpose plays in the success that Apple has in engaging customers and attracting and retaining talent. Here are the first few insights I’ve come across in my research…
Start with WHY
Simon Sinek, author of ’Start With Why‘ argues that one of the fundamental reasons for Apple’s success is that it focuses its business and communication on it’s ‘WHY’ – what I would call purpose. He gives an example of how a typical computer company might structure its marketing message which is all about the WHAT and the HOW…
“We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-freindly. Wanna buy one?”
Then he shows how Apple communicate start their communications with WHY, before moving on to HOW and WHAT…
“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-freindly. And we happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?”
Sinek believes that starting with WHY and sticking to that WHY has allowed Apple to smoothly move from computers to music players to mobile phones.
A religious fervour
Last night I watched a BBC3 documentary on Superbrands. As part of the programme, scientists scanned the brains of a young man who is a passionate fan of Apple and regularly blogs about the company. The scan showed that when the young man thought about Apple the parts of his brain which lit up were those usually associated with religious fervour. The documentary then featured the Bishop of Buckingham giving some interesting insight into what Apple has in common with many religions…
1. A story of humble beginnings – Apple started in Steve Jobs’ garage
2. A hero or messiah figure – Steve Jobs is the hero who not only co-founded Apple but came back to turn it around in 1997
3. An enemy – IBM and Microsoft
4. Places of worship – Apple store designs are almost like temples
5. Disciples – the many fans who proclaim Apple’s benevolence. One fan interviewed after queuing overnight for an Apple stores opening said “I think that everything that Steve Jobs has ever done has been for the benefit of everyone”
Purposology is the study of how purpose can create engagement. One of the key methods we use is story-telling as stories have the power to get attention, to create emotion and to be retold over and over again. Apple has told its story well and communicated its purpose very effectively. It has also really embedded its purpose as a way of creating products and making decisions which I believe has been crucial to its long-term success.
Food for thought – what stories does your organisation tell and what stories would be more effective at engaging your customers?
Purposology is inspired by a number of companies who are ground-breaking in their sector and have put purpose at the heart of their business. Here’s one of them, ING Direct, which is profiled in more depth in the excellent book ‘Mavericks At Work‘ by William C Taylor and Polly LaBarre…
ING Direct USA is one the fastest growing retail banks in the States and is a subsidiary of ING Group. Created by Arkadi Kuhlmann, ING Direct was created to be radically different from other banks, offering an alternative to a financial culture that encourages people to save too little, invest too recklessly and spend too much. ING Direct keeps its model simple and its costs low, which allows it to offer higher interest rates to savers and lower rates to its mortgage customers. ING Direct’s purpose is ‘leading Americans back to savings’.
“Everything we do starts with our big idea,” Kuhlmann says, “which is to bring make some fundamental values: self-reliance, independence, having a grubstake. One way or another, most financial companies are telling you to spend more. We’re showing you how to save more. What’s better than apple pie, the little guy, fighting for the underdog? We want to own that space.”
ING Direct use their purpose to help them stand out in a crowded market, and make business decisions from that starting point of ‘leading Americans back to savings’. They lobby against credit cards, the exist to serve the people who need the most help with saving and they turn away huge depositers whose needs would divert resources from their core customers.
ING Direct also considers its employees as central to achieving its purpose and aims to inspire and energise them. Employees leaving the building see a sign posted right beside the exit. It reads, DID TODAY REALLY MATTER?
“We keep increasing the intensity, the passion, the goals,” says the CEO, “It’s very hard to be an employee here and not ask yourself ‘Am I up for this or not?’ It’s not about getting people stressed. It’s about getting them full of conviction.”
Kuhlmann sums it up nicely when he says “Re-creating an industry is about creating a story around customers, around employees, around products. Banking is about money, and money is about who you are, how you think about your future, looking out for the ones you love. We are trying to make savings cool. We’re creating a story that carries a sense of mission, a story that shifts people to a new point of view.”
I don’t know about you, but I wish I could bank with ING Direct – they sound like my kind of people. And that is the beauty of purpose and the stories, values and approaches it creates – it helps companies find their tribe and serve them.
A question to leave you with – how would you re-create your industry?
An article in today’s Sunday Times points out that some high streets are actually thriving as they build on the unique local connection they can offer which big chains and supermarkets can’t. It gives the example of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire which attracts visitors from across the region thanks to its independent toy stores, high quality butchers linked to the local farm and range of cafes. Together they have created a sense of community, something that many of us miss as we increasingly interact online and live alone.
I, for one, love the familiarity of chatting to my local shopkeeper and dry cleaner – they greet me with a smile, ask how I am and even let me pay later if I’ve not got enough money on me. That’s a far cry from my experience at the local Sainsbury’s where all but a few of the tills are self-service and I can never manage to find what I’m looking for.
Mary Portas is wisely advising high streets to take a purpose-led approach to reviving their fortunes “For town centres to thrive, they need to rediscover their point of difference, distinctiveness and character. Answer the questions, ‘What is this place for?’ and ‘Who is this place for?’, agree your story, develop the experience around that story and you have an opportunity to compete.”
I couldn’t agree more and her advice is at the heart of the Purposology approach which can be applied to high streets, charities and corporates alike. What benefit would it have to your organisation to take some time out to look at why you exist, who you serve and how the stories you tell can engage both your employees and your external audiences?
A new research study by employee engagement software company Leap CR shows that 50% of younger staff want their company to improve their Corporate Social Responsibility whilst 69% said that undertaking some charitable work on company time engaged them further with the company. You can read more in the Third Sector article.
Purpose-led companies often have a charitable element to their work, though some may have an alternative way to make a difference. Innocent Smoothies for example donates a huge 10% of its profits to charity. It will be interesting to see how Generation Y changes the way that that organisations engage employees - whilst jobs are tough to come right now this is the generation that will have countless jobs in their lifetime and an overwhelming amount of information available to them. Will the challenge increasingly become keeping talented employees long-term?
By the way, I’m a big fan of LeapCR which is a purpose-led company. They offer charities their service free of charge and give back at least 1% of time, product and money to the community. They’re also really lovely people to deal with with engaged passionate staff.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood — and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.”
I know from my experience raising millions for good causes that there is nothing as effective as a big and inspiring vision to get employees, donors and customers truly engaged and into action. But whilst having a vision propels you forward, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. So how do you keep your team (and your own enthusiasm) going when times are tough? And how do you know when you need to change tack or even stop?
Well there’s a little book that’s packed full of wisdom that can help you with that. It’s called ‘The Dip’ and it’s written by blogger and marketing genius Seth Godin. The Dip is the book to pick up when times are tough, or when you want to be prepared for future tough times.
Godin’s concept revolves around the fact that in any venture an initial boost of energy is followed by a long dip as things get tough. The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. It’s the days when you feel like quitting and the project feels like a failure. It’s also the place where you learn what you need to do to succeed and the way the market tests your resolve and staying power. Few go through the Dip, but those that do become leaders in the market, trusted for their credibility and long term approach.
So how does this help you on a practical level?
1. Plan for the Dip and let your people know it’s coming – if you set expectations amongst your team that success is a walk in the park then you’re going to have a lot of disillusioned and confused people on your hands. If, however, they understand that to aim high is to embark on a hero’s quest, that there will be challenges along the way and that the end result will be worth it then they can prepare.
2. Decide in advance when to quit – sometimes quitting is the right choice and enables you to redirect resources somewhere more productive. However you want to make that decision strategically, not from a place of panic with a feeling of failure. So set your boundaries at the start of the project and decide what will trigger the decision to strategically quit. Identify how you will know whether you are in the Dip or if there is a more serious problem.
3. Start your projects with a clear vision and purpose. Getting through the Dip, both personally and as a leader, requires you to be truly connected to the long term goal and to be able to visualise how it will feel to achieve it and the difference it will make.
At only 80 pages long I recommend The Dip – read it on a train journey and it will be the most galvanising train journey you’ve ever been on.
PS If you have fundraisers in your organisation they will inevitably go through the Dip at some point in the financial year – this book will give you the insight and wisdom you need to see them through that