Much has been written on the subject of purpose - specifically, the benefits organisations can realise from having a clear sense of what they are there to do. The subject seems to be very much in vogue right now, with several bestselling business books devoted to the subject and Simon Sinek's brilliant TED Talks receiving millions of hits. So I thought I'd write a brief introduction and one or two reflections on how and why small businesses can apply the concept.
How to define a business's purpose? Sometimes - very occasionally - it may be obvious. More commonly it less clear, in which case the question warrants deeper consideration. Why does the business exist? What problem is it there to solve? What contribution does it make to society? What do the founders/ owners hope to achieve? These kinds of questions may yield some interesting answers.
It might also be helpful to examine what does not count as a purpose, at least in the sense implied in this article. A purpose is not what a business does (sell things, provide services etc). And it isn't how a business goes about doing things, either (selling the best things, providing the most efficient services etc). True purpose is something deeper - the effect the business wishes to have on customers, society, the world at large, if you like. These are big, and important questions.
Are you able to define your organisation's purpose? If not, what might this be telling you? How does this affect the way in which objectives are set within your business? What frame of reference guides your decision making? What makes you (and your staff) want to get out of bed and go to work in the morning?
Why does purpose matter? I am rather taken by the argument that businesses that have a clear sense of purpose tend to perform better, cope with change better and are more sustainable. It makes sense really; a clear sense of purpose can guide management decision making; provide a compelling reason for customers to buy the products and services; and establish a strong culture within the business, where staff contribute effectively because they all have a common understanding of what the business is trying to accomplish.
Are these ideas relevant to small businesses? Personally I see no reason why not. In fact, I dare say that at the smaller end of many markets, where there may be a high number of competitors, having a clear sense of purpose can be extremely helpful in differentiating the organisation. Differentiation not just in terms of its products and services but also, perhaps, in creating the kind of organisation that people want to work for, banks want to lend to, and communities want to support.
Our purpose at Scholes CA? We're not here to produce accounts and tax returns. Obviously, as accountants that's one of the many things we do, day in, day out - but it's not why we're here. I believe we are here to help ambitious small businesses grow and succeed, and in doing so make a contribution to our communities and the wider economy. We try to build and run our business with that end in mind; it's a very compelling reason to do what we do.