5 Top Tips for Finding your Company’s Soul

By: Joe Hildebrand, Lead Inventor, ?What If!

Milton Friedman, Nobel prize-winning economist, once said:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”

I’d say that’s pretty depressing. And, hopefully we all agree that the corporate world has moved on from that. But whilst many organisations are trying their hardest to find their soul, there are lots of examples of where it’s falling flat.

Lucy Kellaway wrote in the Financial Times last year about an experiment she carried out. The punch line was that of the 24 professionals she brought into a room, five knew their company’s values — and three of them were on the committee that wrote the values in the first place.

So, does Mr Friedman still have a point?

Research by the Big Innovation Centre found that lack “of a clearly defined visionary corporate purpose, which sets out how the company will better peoples’ lives” costs the British economy £130 billion every single year.

So there’s reason to start your journey and do it well.

Whether you’re searching for your soul to help your business grow, to attract the best people (lots of research, like this, tells us it’s a critical thing to do to attract millennial talent), or a combination of the two. Here are five top tips to help you on your way:

1. Do it for your best persons

How many times have you watched an organisation cater to the minority? Someone steps out of line and then almost immediately you see rules and regulations come into place to stop it.

Try the same approach when it comes to your purpose, and, you’re on a hiding to nothing. Instead, picture your best persons — your highest performers, your most trusted advisors — and do it for them. Set the bar high and give everyone a reason to be their best.

2. Don’t focus on your to-do list

It’s likely that as you set off on your journey you’ll also have loads of things piling-up on your to-do list. Don’t be distracted by them.

If you are, you run the risk of creating a purpose that just gets you far enough to do what you need in the short term. And, that’s unlikely to be motivating, so you’ll end-up back at square one again sometime very soon.

3. Keep it pub simple

Ever played ‘bullshit bingo’? I have. And, I win a lot. Because the words we choose to use at work are horrendous. Shall we codify that? Or, perhaps we can take it offline? NO!

If you want to weave your purpose into the DNA of your business you will need to make it easy for people to talk about. Use plain English. Use emotive words, and, make it comfortable for people to talk about over a pint or glass of wine.

4. It’s about deeds not words

Articulating your purpose with conviction and authenticity will get you so far. But the rubber will only really hit the road when you reinforce the future world you’re driving towards.

Find some iconic actions. Do them well, and do them visibly. And, find ways to incentivise your people to do new things in new ways.

5. It’s a journey of discovery

You can be put-off if you think it’s all about creativity: “I’m not creative, so this isn’t for me”. We don’t think it has that much to do with creativity.

It’s about discovery. It’s about reaching deep into the fabric of your organisation, thinking hard about what’s in your heart and those of your colleagues, and, bringing it together in a passionate narrative that will excite and engage your people.

So, who’s with us?

If you’d like to know more about how to put a bit of soul into your organisation please contact us on: Joe.Hildebrand@whatifinnovation.com and follow us on twitter: ?What If! Innovation