Finding Your Company’s North Star: Developing A Unified Purpose Your Team Can Rally Around
The following is adapted from The Problem Isn’t Their Paycheck.
Over 50 percent of currently employed people are looking for a new job—not because money is a problem, but because they don’t feel like they’re doing work that matters.
To motivate and retain your employees, you must show them why their work matters. You do that by creating a unified purpose—a company-wide purpose that your team can rally around and believe in. As an example, the purpose of Stewardship (my mortgage, insurance, and investment management company) is “loving people through finances.”
I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the importance of purpose. In theory, purpose is easy to understand, but in practice, you may feel a little lost. You might even be thinking, “My company doesn’t have a purpose. We don’t really do things that make an impact.”
Don’t worry. Even if you have no idea right now what your company’s purpose is, you can create one. In this article, I’ll guide you through my four-step process for creating the purpose around which you will unify your team.
Creating your unified purpose starts by identifying what problems your customer has.
According to Donald Miller, founder of Story Brand and author of Building a StoryBrand, customers have three different types of problems: external, internal, and philosophical.
An external problem is the one we can see. For us at Stewardship, one of our clients’ external problems is that they need a home loan so they can buy a house. They need car insurance so they can drive a car. Or they need their investments managed wisely so they can accomplish their goals. These are all external problems, and they are fairly easily identified.
An internal problem is how a customer feels about their external problem. We may not see it, and they might not even say it out loud, but they are thinking about that problem. Even more, they feel something about it.
Our customers, for example, may feel uncertain about their financial future. They may have a growing salary or retirement account but no idea how it will help them meet their goals or live their preferred lifestyle. They dream about retiring, but they don’t know when they’ll be able to do it—or if this dream is even realistic. More importantly, they aren’t sure what steps to take between now and then, to make sure their retirement dreams come true.
This uncertainty creates fear and insecurities. They don’t have confidence, they don’t know if they can do it, and they may feel inadequate. Recognizing the internal problem means identifying those feelings the customer has.
The philosophical problem is even more important than both the external and internal problems. To discover the philosophical problem, you want to ask, “Why is it just plain wrong that people are dealing with these external and internal problems?”
This is different from the external problem. It shouldn’t look like, “They need insurance so they can drive a car,” or “They need their money managed for retirement.” You want something stronger than that. Looking to your customers’ internal problem, considering what they’re thinking and feeling, can help, but the best way to create a strong, unified purpose is to identify the problem as a philosophical issue. Why is this wrong as a society? Why is it wrong that people are dealing with this? Why would a large number of people care that this is wrong?
At Stewardship, we recognize that homeownership is a really big deal, not just to your finances but also to consistency and cohesiveness in your family. And we think it’s just plain wrong that people don’t know that they can do it. Remember our purpose, “Loving people through finances”? The philosophical problem our customers are experiencing is that they don’t get loved in financial situations.
Most personal financial salespeople will try to take advantage of them. They will look right in someone’s eyes and figure out: “How much money can I make off this person?” They’ll sell products or services that may not be the best solution for the customer—but it pays the advisor the most commission.
We don’t do that at Stewardship because, when it comes to your personal finances, we believe that is especially wrong. Why? Because it dramatically impacts your life! It impacts your goals and your finances on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year basis, and those finances impact your relationships.
The philosophical problem is a big problem, one that creates emotion. When people get charged up and that problem is solved, it creates a sense of belonging. It creates a high level of happiness and joy. And ideally, it even creates an aspirational identity. People believe they are a certain type of person because they are fighting this injustice, or they believe they’re a better person for solving this philosophical issue.
You can unify a lot of people around finding a solution for a philosophical problem, and this is where you can create a movement.
Take some time right now to figure out the problems your clients or customers are dealing with. Start by writing down the external problems; these are easy. You see them and solve them every day for your customers.
Now go a level deeper. What negative feelings do those external problems cause for your customer? Write those down.
Then go deeper still. Why is it just plain wrong that people have to deal with that? How do those problems make our society and our world worse?
With that philosophical problem identified, you can move on to answering the question, “What do you do?” What is it that your company actually does?
At Stewardship, we write home loans, we write insurance policies, we manage investments, we offer money management. But we don’t want to identify all of that, so we just say, “We help people with money.”
In your answer to what you do, you want to use an emotionally charged word that connects people with the philosophical problem you established in step one.
Let’s look at some other companies’ unified purposes so you can see what I mean:
So if we look at that list, what does Airbnb do? They rent out vacation homes online. They give people a place to stay. But their unified purpose is to create a world where everyone belongs. So what do they do? They create belonging. That’s emotionally charged and it’s just plain wrong if people don’t belong.
What does Kellogg’s do? They make cereal. Their unified purpose is nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive. Who doesn’t think families should be nourished? It’s just plain wrong if they’re not.
Southwest Airlines gives people the freedom to fly. The emotionally charged word there is “freedom.” Who doesn’t want freedom? Who hasn’t dreamed about flying?
If we look just at the “what do you do?” answers, Airbnb creates a world. Kellogg’s nourishes. Disney uses imagination. Southwest gives. What do we do at Stewardship? We love. The philosophical problem we’ve identified is that people get taken advantage of, they aren’t loved through finances. So what are we going to do? We’re going to love.
What is it that you do—and which emotionally charged word, like “belonging,” “freedom,” “nourish,” or “love,” can you include in that answer?
The third step in creating your unified purpose is to identify whom you serve.
You’re not looking to identify a demographic, such as thirty-five-year-old males who live in the suburbs. You’re looking for a word that people can connect with, one that they identify with. If my unified purpose was “loving females through finances,” all the males on my staff would have a hard time connecting with that purpose.
What are the words people connect with in our other examples? Who is served by each company? For Airbnb, it’s “the world.” You’re in the world, and you probably think the world should be a better place—so it connects. For Kellogg’s, it’s “families.” You probably either have a family or have been part of a family.
The word can be as simple as “people,” like in Southwest’s purpose. You’re a person. I’m a person. We’re all people—and so we can all be served by Southwest (and Stewardship, for that matter!). Disney just says “millions,” but you can be part of those millions—if you want happiness. And who doesn’t want happiness?
As you identify whom you serve, you want to find that word that people connect with. Is it “everyone”? Is it “family”? Maybe it’s “society” or “millions of people.” It can even be your town or state. Whatever the word is, you want it to be something people will be able to identify with, especially the people on your staff.
The final step in creating your unified purpose is to answer, “What is the outcome?” The outcome is the opposite of the philosophical problem you identified in step one. Remember, that problem makes the world crappy—your outcome needs to be something that makes the world better.
Airbnb makes people feel like they belong, so the outcome is belonging. For Kellogg’s, the outcome is flourishing and thriving. Disney’s outcome is the same as what they do, and that’s happiness. What’s the outcome for Southwest? Well, when you get to fly, you get freedom. With Stewardship, what we do is the same as the outcome: we love.
So far, you just have a collection of parts, just a bunch of words. To actually form the unified purpose, simply put steps one through four together.
Take the action word of what you do, the noun of whom you serve, and the preferred outcome or happy ending. Put all of those together, and you have your unified purpose.
Let me break it down for you, using the Stewardship example:
Pretty simple when you look at it that way, right? I know you can do it! Get started creating your unified purpose, and give your employees work that matters.
For more advice on creating a unified purpose, you can find The Problem Isn’t Their Paycheck on Amazon.
Grant Botma is the founder of Stewardship and the leader of its nationally ranked team of top producers. Thanks to a thriving company culture, Grant’s team has won numerous awards, including national performance rankings like “Top 1%” and “Top 100.” Grant’s leadership has also grown Stewardship to be an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company In America. He lives in Arizona with his wife, Jodie and their three children, Cambria, Parker, and Ellenie. To learn more about Stewardship, visit moneywellrooted.com.