If you want to achieve your quarterly sales quotas, slash expenses, or reach some other important benchmark, it’s import to remember your why—why you started your company, why you spent long days and longer nights helping it grow, and why achieving greater impact is critical.
But unlike personal goals that are often chased in isolation, business is a team sport. And if you want to win as a team, you need to communicate your organization’s purpose so that your team members can make it part of their why.
Get specific about your mission
Few things ruin a team’s focus more than generic objectives (increasing website traffic or launching new products, for example) that aren’t directly connected to the company’s mission. According to Joel Schwartzberg, a communications expert and public speaking trainer, using abstract goals to share an organization’s purpose is a mistake that makes fulfilling the true mission much more difficult.
“Whether your company makes the world a safer place or makes a profit from selling soft drinks, always end your point with the highest value proposition,” Schwartzberg says. “Always ask ‘Why is that important?’ until you reach the ultimate goal, then make that your point.”
This approach transforms a desire of “opening more stores” to “becoming the market leader and saving more lives.” The first is little more than an abstract goal, while the latter is clearly more purpose-driven.
Yet even after determining the highest value proposition, specificity is still important when determining how to communicate it. And, adds Schwartzberg, “badjectives” should be avoided at all costs.
“’Badjectives’ are adjectives that are so broad and overused that they mean virtually nothing—words like ‘great,’ ‘very good,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘interesting,’ and even ‘important,’” he says. “What’s ‘important’ to one person might be irrelevant to someone else.”
Instead of using those words, Schwartzberg recommends asking why an approach or goal is “very good” or “great.” The answer, he says, will bring you back to your organization’s highest value proposition and true purpose in the most concise way possible.
Tell a story
Jesus taught in parables for a reason: Wrapping important messages in the context of a well-told story makes them easier to understand, easier to remember, and easier to act upon.
Vlad Giverts has co-founded three companies and been one of the first employees or executives at five others. He now coaches business leaders and finds that a lack of storytelling often prevents deep buy-in from team members.
“Many companies have inspirational purpose statements like ‘Reinventing Finance’ or ‘Revolutionizing Education,’ but no one knows what they really mean,” says Giverts. “These statements are often obvious to the founders, and they can’t imagine how their team members, who they see and talk to every week, don’t just ‘get it.’ But they usually don’t.”
To help turn an organization’s purpose with a story, Giverts recommends answering the following questions:
● Who is the protagonist?
● What is their struggle?
● How will the company make a meaningful difference in these people’s lives and, thus, make the world a better place?
Responses to these questions provide clarity and, when incorporated, can turn a generic statement like:
“We’ll make it more convenient for people to get groceries!”
“Millions of professionals are working long hours to succeed at their jobs. They’re struggling to keep up with chores with the few hours they have left. What if we could free up some of their time to live their lives, instead of dealing with chores?”
Statements like these are much more effective in connecting team members to the organization’s why and uniting everyone with an objective that’s both shared and compelling.
It’s not just enough to communicate an organization’s purpose if team members don’t believe that it can actually be fulfilled. There are challenges inherent to running an organization and leading teams—and the larger the vision and intended impact, the more those challenges compound.
According to Earl Choate, CEO of Concrete Camouflage, the antidote to team frustration and apathy is for the leaders tasked with this communication to simply stay positive.
“Managers are limited in the amount of work they can accomplish individually, and there is only so much a person can get done in a given day or week,” he explains. “However, their attitude can have a tremendous impact on the work done by other people in the company.”
As the leader of an e-commerce company that designs and sells its own proprietary concrete staining supplies, Choate implements this simple strategy on a daily basis. He also notes how effective positivity is as a motivator and driver of purposeful action.
“A positive outlook is so important from a leader because it wears off onto the rest of the team,” Choate says. “It helps create a culture that inspires risk taking and personal initiative from team members.”