Do this first before starting a company
Why have a Just Cause
I would be willing to bet that most entrepreneurs start companies for all the wrong reasons. I’m sure many do it to make money, to be their own boss, or simply because they have an idea. My own journey resembles this too. I started SlovSoft because I had passion for technology. NetParadox was to pursue a “great” idea, and Ceremity enabled me to get away from the corporate world and build cool tech. While these may all be legitimate reasons for founders, it should not stop there because what’s missing from all these examples is what Simon Sinek calls a “just cause”.
Let’s take the latest company — Ceremity as a case in point. Over the ten plus years of company’s existence we helped many customers transform their organizations through technology, we grew our business, made it on the Inc. 5000 list, and ultimately sold it to a strategic acquirer. By many accounts, this was a successful venture; however, I now believe that we failed in one crucial aspect. Building awesome software and doing a great job for our customers is important, but in some ways it’s just table stakes. It does not really attract great new hires who are so inspired that they are willing to make sacrifices just to advance the cause. I’m sure this crucial flaw was not unique to Ceremity. Many companies have mission statements that are either table stakes or sound like some corporate and marketing nonsense. It’s no wonder that we all struggle to hire the right talent and get our employees engaged.
Benefits of Just Cause
A compelling just cause can motivate existing employees as well as attract both new hires and new customers. Without a compelling cause, organizations can be directionless, which also means that most employees are probably rowing in different directions. Likewise, without it, an organization will mostly attract employees who merely want to improve their pay or title by switching jobs. These employees don’t join because they are attracted to the mission. They show up for better pay or maybe more responsibility. They are not crusaders. They are mercenaries.
A just cause not only attracts and galvanizes employees, but it also helps organizations to differentiate. For a company to survive and thrive, it needs to escape competition to some degree; however, not by copying them, but by staying true to their own just cause. Take a look at Apple for instance. As Simon Sinek points out in the The Infinite Game, Apple is not trying to beat the competition. They are not trying to be better than Microsoft or Google. Instead, they are trying to be a better version of themselves. They are looking inward at what matters to them in order to fulfill their own just cause of empowering others through design and technology. Another company that embodies this is Tesla. Tesla’s cause is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. This attracts both employees and customers who feel passionate about it. At the same time, it probably also repels those who don’t believe in it. One would think that’s not good, but it’s quite the opposite. A just cause (and by extension the company vision) both attract the right people to the organization and repel the wrong people. As Jim Collins puts it in Good to Great, a great vision can help to get the right people on the bus and wrong people off the bus.
Mission, Vision and Just Cause
A lot has already been written on the subject of corporate mission and vision statements. Yet, many of us are still confused by these terms. That’s why I personally like Simon Sinek’s suggestion that we throw out those terms and replace them with “just cause”. Whatever you call it, it should not be to make more money, to be the best, biggest, fastest, cheapest, or to simply entertain founder’s desire to be her or his own boss. Instead, a great “just cause”:
- Appeals to emotion and inspires
- Appeals to our core values
- Creates “fire” in employees to wake up every day and make the vision a reality not because it’s their job, but because it is their calling.
- Is vivid
- and as Simon Sinek puts it, it must be for something and must be inclusive, service oriented, resilient, and idealistic
Some great books on the subject include:
- Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it)
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
- The Infinite Game
Start with Why
So how do you discover your organization’s just cause? If you’re a founder, then start with your personal WHY even before you try to define the organization’s just cause. If you’re personally not passionate about something that becomes your business, if you cannot get out of bed every day exhilarated to fulfill your personal WHY, how will you manage to get your employees excited? After your personal WHY, define the organization’s just cause that’s consistent with that WHY.