Time to change your core purpose?
I was recently asked about what to do when it feels like you need to change the core purpose of your business. Another person answered that “your core purpose is always to return money to your shareholders, that never changes.”
I believe that attitude is fifty years out of date.
Sure, if you choose to create a company which is merely about extracting money from your customers and giving it to your investors, fine. But that’s not the people I’m working with.
Most thoughtful leaders these days recognize that you’re constantly balancing value delivered to investors, employees, customers, and society in general. The mission you choose represents how you define the ideal balance, and what you want to commit the company to.
But things change, right? So what happens when you feel like it’s time for a big directional shift?
In a world where you get to choose your company’s core purpose, there is indeed a danger that you’ll get off track, or the world will change, or that you simply decide that it’s no longer the most impact you want to have.
The place I start is to really go deep into your sense that the core purpose may be shifting. Often, you’re mostly running into obstacles with HOW you achieve that purpose, not that the purpose itself needs to change. And, often, the core purpose needs to be tweaked and refined a bit, not thrown out completely. So the solution may be to broaden it, narrow it, modernize it, or whatever. In that case it makes the transition a lot easier because you’re building upon something that people know and believe about why you do what you do. That includes employees, managers, partners, and customers.
But let’s imagine that you believe your core purpose needs to change by 90% rather than 10%. It’s almost as if you’re rebooting the company from scratch. That’s actually a good way to work through this kind of wrenching change – treat it as if you were starting a whole new company, and you need to attract employees/managers/partners/customers anew. That’s scary as heck, but it’s a great lens to look at this through.
Because, at the end of the day, it’s really the people and relationships which are going to make the shift possible. If they don’t come along on your journey, enthusiastically, then it probably WILL be easier to start a whole new company.
Finally, I’d point out that the problem may be that YOU’RE burned out on the current mission, but the rest of the company still has enough momentum and is addressing valuable needs. In that case, consider that it may be time to hand over the reins to someone who has fresh passion and energy and will help the company to its new level. It’s a fine and honorable thing to do.
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