Practice Makes Purpose Entrepreneurial Passion Delivers
Practice Makes Purpose: The purpose driven entrepreneur is responsible for the venture’s strategy and behavior. Hence practice delivers the startup’s purpose. Passionate entrepreneurs take conscious steps to ensure consistency and direction, knowing that bad practice will always conflict with good purpose.
There are all too many examples of the opposite being true, especially among major established companies. You can easily find examples where high-minded claims are made in mission statements that are belied by the experience of employees, customers and other stakeholders on whom the companies depend.
A multinational that has two separate corporate websites—one for consumers and another for investors, risks behaviors that do not align with purpose. If a multinational has a purpose to reduce harm, ethical questions are likely if markets products that are known carcinogens.
Such issues are tough to confront and the new venture must deal with unavoidable ethical dilemmas. Back in 1982, shortly after starting my first business, we confronted the question as to whether we should do business in Apartheid South Africa. It was tough for the fledgling business that desperately needed revenue. There was a case to argue that we would hurt the Black population if we did not help local companies to prosper, but on the other hand, we needed our potential clients know our values. We chose not to trade there until post-Apartheid.
The Big Story is a Big Deal
Practicing purpose is not a ‘nice to’ for a startup. This is why I, and many others, consider it critical for entrepreneurs to commit their heart and soul into the new venture. Indeed, those that do, find not only that negative consequences are avoided, but greater business opportunity results. To be clear about why you want to build a business is generous, rather than selfish. Looking back, many decades later, I realize that we were less scrupulous than we considered were forty years ago.
Some clients did not give us pause to think about ethical issues. We worked with oil companies in the 1980s, never reflecting about environmental matters, nor excess profits that resulted purely from international oil economics rather than business prowess. We worked with major banks without giving a second thought to how we might be helping to enrich CEOs and other top brass through share buybacks to the cost of other stakeholders.
Ranjay Gulati, in his book, Deep Purpose: the heart and soul of high-performance companies, offers five ways to translate deep purpose into action.
- Define a “Big Story” for your purpose.
- Craft your “Big Story” to elicit action.
- Be vulnerable.
- Rethink how you respond during crises.
- Live the purpose in everything you do.
If you “find purpose, the means will follow,” said Gandhi. He also said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Of course he was speaking about ‘you’ as a person, not a corporate person, but the mantra would serve your startup equally well!
Vulnerability is Strength, Not Weakness
However, the economic system is changing for the better, for people and the planet. The charge is being led not only by startups but also mature corporations seeking to reinvent themselves in a world that needs systemic change.There is no place for the ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘keeping face’, or insisting on Milton Friedman’s dictum that the only one social responsibility of business is to increase its profits (even though he qualified that by saying, “so long as it engages in free and open competition without deception or fraud.”). Vulnerability needs to be a high principle of starting a new venture.
One great example of this ethic is Glen Raven, the North Carolina textiles business. Leib Oehmig, the CEO says the company, “is committed to improving the lives of our associates, enriching our communities, and preserving our planet.” The first of the company’s six Guiding Principles that define their Purpose concerns Heart for People and states “We show kindness, we are respectful, and we embrace difference. At all times. Even when we disagree, we recognize the humanity of each other, and the dignity that every person deserves. We trust the good intentions of one another. We care.”
Known for their Sunbrella brand and inventing pantyhose in 1959, none of their guiding principles are filled with the clichés we are used to hearing from too many multinationals. The other five principles are:
- Heart for People;
- “All-in” on Doing It Right;
- Drive to Improve;
- We Get After It;
- It’s Not About Me;
- We Take the Long View.
Purpose is Personal
Purpose is personal—it is the heart and soul of of the business and therefore, platitudes will have no place in its definition. Each entrepreneur or startup team has to work and maintains the purpose of the new venture. It’s not easy. To help you think about where your are going, it might help you to see the Best Purpose Statement Examples From the Fortune 500, as considered by Purpose Brand, the communications agency, whose CEO Diane Primo, is the only African American female CEO of a purpose-driven communications agency. .
Personally, I have a lot to say about startup purpose! Below are just four of my perspectives on the subject. If you search for ‘Purpose’ the Venture Founders site, using the search icon on the home page, you’ll find fifty or so more posts related to the subject, including both insights and practical methods for your own enterprise.