Meaning precedes motivation, so it is critical to craft a compelling purpose for your organization. But you cannot stop there. You must also craft a plan to achieve that purpose so it feels achievable. Before we address a simple, powerful set of questions you can ask to create a compelling purpose and plan, we will share some context about today’s world of work that sheds some light on why this aspect of healthy growth is so critical.

The current environment has forced many of us to grow in ways we would have never imagined. Healthy growth is positive, strong, sustained and serves all parties. Healthy growth is a choice. When you help others grow, you grow… and growing people fuel growing organizations.

Expansive research by Gallup clearly shows a clear shift is focus for today’s worker:

Past Today
My PaycheckMy Purpose
My SatisfactionMy Development
My BossMy Coach
My Annual ReviewMy Ongoing Conversations
My WeaknessesMy Strengths
My JobMy Life

This proprietary healthy growth process is based on experience with our executive clients since 1999. It is aligned with the unique needs of today’s worker and the requirements for today’s leader. This process predictably yields healthy growth for you, your employees, and your business.

Leadership is a force multiplier when it comes to the healthy growth. The leader sets the vision, expectations, encouragement, and most importantly, the example for the five growth factors. The result is healthy growth… for the leader, for the team and for the business.

Healthy Leadership x 5 Growth Factors = Healthy Growth


Take this free, 3-minute Healthy Growth Check-up and receive a real-time feedback report.

Compelling Purpose & Plan

Using this healthy growth process as a framework, we will focus on one of the five growth factors:

Compelling Purpose & Plan

A compelling purpose answers “why?”. A compelling plan answers “what?” and provides visibility into the future to accelerate decision making and innovation.

The latest Gallup workforce survey of millions of workers and interviews with CHROs and preeminent economist reveals that a global dream is to have a “good Job”. However, the “best life imaginable” particularly for young people doesn’t happen unless you have a “great job” with a living wage and a leader who encourages your development. The difference between a “good job” and a “great job” is that a great job has all the elements of a good job plus one big differentiator. A great job is when you are engaged in meaningful and fulfilling work and feel you are experiencing real growth and development at the work.

So, the starting point for a great job is a compelling purpose and plan for the organization. Whether you are developing a corporate strategic plan or setting your department’s strategy it’s important to start with a simple, clear and well-thought-out plan. Why stack the odds against yourself with an overly complex or unclear plan? Our goal is to have clients articulate their plan in just a few words pages. If you are going to work on a plan, your plan should work for you.

Management journals, books and articles are filled with countless approaches to strategic planning. The definitions for the various components of a strategic plan can be debated endlessly – a vision vs. a mission, initiatives vs. tactics, goals vs. objectives. So rather than use valuable client time debating definitions or working through a complex planning process, we cut through the clutter by answering six critical questions about your business or team (depending on your level in the organization).

Think of these questions as the “SparkNotes” version of planning. Craft clear answers to these questions, and you’ll be off to a strong start. Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of the questions. They require deep thought, good supporting data and honest discussion in order to articulate concise answers. And remember, the questions apply to leaders of an organization, a regional office, a department or a small team. Every leader should answer these six questions for his/her function.

Six Critical Questions to Create a Compelling Purpose and Plan

  1. Why do we exist?

    What promise are you making to customers? Which wants, needs, desires, pains or problems do your products/services solve? The answer to this question should rarely change since it reflects the core of your existence. Keep your answer real and relevant, because people can only commit to what they understand and your leaders must be able to own and live the answer. And, keep it simple. Anything more than a sentence might be too long to remember and too long for employees to really connect with.Consider how your function or organization makes life better for others. Your answer should stir the emotions. So, it should not be a project goal (too time-restricted), financial target (not emotionally compelling) or a specific strategy (too narrow). People don’t get emotionally charged about a “10 percent net profit,” a “20 percent return on investment” or a “30 percent increase in market share.” Your answer to this question should give your employees a reason to be excited about getting up and going to work every day, a reason to dread Fridays.

    Engage your team by asking them how their jobs relate to your team’s purpose. Some questions you might pose include:

    • How does our purpose make you feel? (If you hear responses like proud, important, connected, helpful or like a winner, then you’re on the right track.)
    • Does our purpose make you look at your job differently?
    • Do our roles, procedures, resources, skills and priorities support our ability to achieve our purpose?
    • What can you change or do differently to better support our purpose?
    • What can I change or do differently to better support our purpose?

    Healthy leaders don’t depend on chance, they lead on purpose.

    Here is how a few healthy organizations have answered the “why do we exist” question (but don’t be restricted by their structure or wording).

    • Google – To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
    • Bristol-Myers Squibb – To discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.
    • Coca-Cola – To refresh the world, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness, to create value and make a difference.
    • National Motor Club – We provide peace of mind and convenience for our traveling public.
    • Customer call center – To brighten the day of each caller by solving a problem.
    • Data security department – To ensure confidence by securing customers’ most private information.
    • Human resources department – To create a family that likes to win together.

    Your team’s purpose may not be apparent at first glance. For example, DW Distribution is a regional building products distributor in its third generation of family leadership. Their leaders experienced a common challenge when answering this question. Like many companies, it was easy for them to describe what they do instead of why they do it. Their initial response to this question was, “We just move these products from point A to Point B on time.” While, in fact, that is what they do, there was also a deeper “why.” Since many of their products were used for new home construction, their ultimate answer was, “We distribute building products that help the American dream come true.” Now, that’s a purpose worth working for! If you have a clear, brief description of what you do, consider adding to the end of that statement the words, “so that…” or “in order to….” You will find that it makes for a much more meaningful and emotionally compelling answer.

    A compelling purpose helps define your strategy and stay on course with sound decision-making. For example, in 2014 CVS Pharmacy, not called CVS Health, became the first U.S. drugstore chain to stop selling tobacco products. CVS realized that tobacco didn’t align with its purpose of “helping people on their path to better health.” So, they not only removed tobacco from its stores, they also launched programs to help smokers quit. The move resulted in 95 million fewer cigarette packs sold and a four percent increase in nicotine patch purchases.

    In the first year of this change, CVS lost $2 billion in annual cigarette sales. On the other hand, its pharmacy sales jumped up. Eliminating tobacco from its shelves was an important step toward credibly rebranding the company from CVS Pharmacy to CVS Health. These changes resulted in a 10 percent increase in revenue, mostly from growth in pharmacy benefits management, a new revenue source that might not have been considered without its new purpose as a strategic lens. Living its purpose also led CVS to a $69 billion merger with Aetna and significant stock gains.

  2. Where are we going?

    The answer to this question should be a forward-looking statement that inspires your entire team, from customer-facing operations to back-office support. It should connect today’s tasks to tomorrow’s promise. Know that the answer may change over time to drive constant learning and innovation.

    Fossil is a worldwide watchmaker and also one of the fastest-growing lifestyle brands with its line of American vintage watches, accessories, clothing and shoes. Jennifer Pritchard, president of retail for Fossil, led its retail growth to 418 stores worldwide with a vision of being a distinctive lifestyle brand. Pritchard has been a client for several years and shared her perspective on this question: “If you don’t invest the time to know where you want to go, you will never be in a position to get there. It is in the development of your plan that you take the first real step towards making it a reality. Once you have your ‘where,’ you get to work on the ‘how.’ If you try to skip answering the ‘where are we going’ question, you won’t know what you need to do or whom to bring along on the journey.”

    Here are some other examples of answers to the question, “Where are we going?”:

    • Zappos – One day, 30% of all retail transactions in the US will be online. People will buy from the company with the best service and the best selection. will be that online store.
    • Nike – To be the number one athletic company in the world.
    • DuPont – To be the world’s most dynamic science company, creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer and healthier life for people everywhere.
    • Customer call center – To always be in the industry’s top 10% in response time and caller satisfaction.
    • Information technology department – To consistently deliver 99% uptime for all business-critical systems.
    • Purchasing department – To reduce our company’s carbon footprint by 50% in the next 5 years.
  3. How will we conduct ourselves?

    Your answer to this question should reflect your values. It will influence how you design your people systems (e.g., selection, training, promotion, rewards) and work systems (e.g., meeting ground rules, response expectations, decision making, quality control, collaboration, innovation). Consider these value pillars as you formulate your answer: customer, team, individual and excellence. Think about the very few values you hold as core, as non-negotiable. Avoid the typical, long laundry list of values and instead target three to five core values at most. For example, one of Fortune’s most admired companies, Marriott, boils their values down to: put people first, pursue excellence, embrace change, act with integrity and serve the world. We will elaborate more on values in Chapter 18, “Value Your Values.”

  4. What will we do?

    Strategies generally revolve around customers/markets, people/organizations, products/services, systems/technology and distribution/sales channels. The answer to this question should address how your team will compete in the marketplace or service other departments (if you lead an internal service function). Consider what you will specifically do (and not do), who you will serve (and not serve) and how you will differentiate yourself. Will you enter new markets, roll out new products, leverage a new technology, consolidate operations, use a new marketing approach, build upon your supply chain, become more operationally efficient?

    It is far better to limit yourself to a few strategies and stick with them than to formulate so many strategies that you can’t fully execute them. Try to identify no more than three strategies to execute.

  5. How will we measure our success?

    These measures of success tell you in a quantifiable way if you are making progress executing your plan and, ultimately, if you have fully implemented it. The nature of your strategies will dictate what makes sense to measure: sales, profits per employee, expenses as a percent of sales, employee engagement level, return on equity, market share, customer satisfaction, year-over-year growth, etc. 

  6. What improvements or changes must we make?

    Rarely does a solid strategy enable your team to proceed with business as usual – it should trigger some changes in order to take your performance to the next level. Your answer to this question should describe just a few key initiatives to support each strategy that you outlined in question #4. Let’s assume that one of your strategies is to add services to support your product offerings in order to deepen customer loyalty. Key initiatives might include: identify those services customers perceive as most value added to their product purchase, and test initial service offerings in X markets to measure customer and revenue impact.

Now that you’ve seen the questions, let’s take a look at how a worldwide manufacturer of golf clubs might answer the six critical questions to create a compelling purpose and plan:

  1. Why do we exist?

    To bring confidence and winning strokes to golfers across the globe.

  2. Where are we going?

    We will be a trusted club in the golf bag of 75 percent of the world’s ranked professional golfers.

  3. How will we conduct ourselves?
    • Innovate in all we do – the big ideas and the little ideas.
    • Respect our teammates and the profession we serve.
    • Pour our hearts into our work. Every club is a reflection
      of us.
  4. What will we do?
    • Penetrate new markets
    • Boost brand exposure
    • Drive organizational efficiency
  5. How will we measure our success?
    • Penetrate new markets
      • Increase sales from $5 million to $10 million in China and Japan
      • Increase sales by 15 percent in the European market.
    • Boost brand exposure
      • Achieve #1 or #2 ranking in all professional player surveys of best brand of clubs.
      • Triple brand impressions in Asian markets by year-end.
    • Drive organizational efficiency
      • Reduce manufacturing waste by 10 percent by year end and by 20 percent over three years.
      • Reduce expenses as a percent of sales by 5 percent by year end and by 15 percent over three years.
      • Improve average employee engagement score to 4.5 by year end and to 4.8 (top 1 percent in industry) in 3 years.
  6. What improvements or changes must we make to execute our strategies?
    • Penetrate new markets
      • Hire new sales leaders for Asia and Europe.
      • Double pipeline of player endorsements in Asia and Europe by year-end.
    • Boost brand exposure
      • Sign three new sponsorship deals with top 100 ranked players by year-end.
      • Double number of tournaments for which we are a primary sponsor.
      • Sponsor 10 junior golfers’ clinics in each geography.
    • Drive organizational efficiency
      • Train all employees on innovation techniques.
      • Review lowest performing products.
      • Implement Passionate Performance engagement model to drive engagement.

Answering these questions (and making corresponding budget adjustments) will get you started with a compelling purpose and plan.

Get started…

Contact us to discuss how you can create a compelling purpose and plan.

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