How to Create a Great Common Purpose

It’s impossible for your organization to create a great customer experience if your team isn’t aligned. Designing a clear common purpose gives you the most important tool for creating that alignment. But what makes for a great common purpose?

Common purpose refresher

If you haven’t read my previous article on the common purpose, here’s a quick refresher.  It’s a simple sentence that describes your organization’s relationship with its market, and the sentence goes like this:

Our organization creates [customer outcomes] for [description of audience] by [method, product, or service.]

For instance, my company’s common purpose is “Jacquette Consulting creates growth for small and medium companies by helping them create exceptional experiences for their customers.”

When we are asked about what our companies do, we tend to respond with something about the products or services we provide.  An essential concept behind the common purpose is understanding that it’s the outcome that matters more than the method.

Not a mission or vision

It’s extremely important to realize that the common purpose is not a mission statement or vision statement.  Many executives struggle with what those two things even are.  The best explanation I’ve encountered is this: your vision is the way you want the world to look, and the mission is how your organization plans to achieve that vision.  Visions are lofty, aspirational, and big-picture. Missions are the secret sauces of industry, the ways in which we’re going to make the visions come true.

The common purpose isn’t either of these.  It’s not aspirational and it’s not visionary. It describes your company today, in the simplest sense possible.

Not a salesman

The common purpose is also not a marketing statement; it doesn’t sell your company’s products or services.  When coaching people on how to create a common purpose, I constantly remind them to avoid superlatives and hype.  No common purpose should include the words “premier provider”, “world-class”, or “market-leading.”  The common purpose is descriptive, not persuasive.

It shows up in blue jeans

The common purpose is a working phrase, a blue-jeans clad statement that just gets things done.  It’s not trying to be fancy, and it doesn’t rely on pretense and showmanship.  It’s a simple sentence, perhaps even a little boring. That’s ok; it’s not here to impress. The common purpose is, above all things, practical. It’s just here to let you get to work.

It’s specific

Your common purpose should make it perfectly clear to people what line of work you’re in. Sometimes, in the process of focusing on outcomes rather than products or services, we get so results-oriented that we forget to tell the world how we actually create those results.  That’s what the third part of the sentence is for. Yes, you may help your customers live happier, more fulfilled lives, but you do it by giving them quick access to the mortgage they need. You may help your construction customers keep their job sites moving at top speed, but you do it by testing the soil quickly and getting the results into their hands in less than twenty-four hours. You must be specific.

Clear as glass

Once your common purpose is specific, unadorned with frippery, and ready to work, it should be very clear.  Clarity is key; without it, the common purpose fails to do its job. Sometimes a common purpose can get a bit long, especially if you offer a wide variety of products and/or services.  That’s ok; it doesn’t have to be ultra-succinct. At the same time, the common purpose shouldn’t be any longer than it has to be.  If you’re struggling between brevity and clarity, clarity wins.

Consistently communicated

Now for the most important part.  Once you have a clear, specific, and practical common purpose, you must communicate it.  You must certainly communicate it throughout your organization: every single person, from the CEO to the summer intern, should know and be able to repeat the common purpose.  That means it must be more than just a poster in the break room or a slide in the quarterly all-hands meeting presentation.  You must communicate it, communicate it some more, and then communicate it again.  It must become an essential part of the regular communications to and among your team.

How do you do that? You ritualize it.  Build a recitation of the common purpose into regular activities. Start every meeting for a month with it. Ask employees to repeat it back to you in exchange for some chocolate or a gift card.  Do whatever you can to bake it deep into the DNA of every person who works within your organization. Yes, it’s that important.

Not only should your team know it, but your customers and prospective customers should know it.  You may not put the basic, blue-jeans-clad common purpose in your marketing materials, but it should certainly form the underpinnings of all of your communication with the outside world.  Again, it’s that important.

Now you have a great common purpose

If you’ve built a clear, specific, and practical common purpose, and if you’ve communicated it to the world, you’re in great shape.  The common purpose describes the basic interface between you and the world, and it makes it clear to all of your team members what you do, for whom you do it, and how you do it.  Now everybody should be rowing in the same direction, and now you can begin to build amazing customer experiences.

Do you have a great common purpose? If not, what are you waiting for?

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