So, what is purpose? The best definition I have heard is from Aedhmar Hynes.
Purpose means people. Purpose is about people. It’s about humanity. Critically, it’s about business. Good business
Business is people and without the people your business would not exist in its current form. The most important people are usually those on the coal front because without them your business could not function. I have written about legacy before and purpose is inherently intertwined with legacy.
When I took over our fuel forecourt business in 2014, I found a company where everything seemed to be frayed and held up with a little bit of sticky tape. The management team had one real member; the Managing Director was absent from day to day management and the Finance Director wore so many hats that nothing was done properly. Worse still was the lack of trust in the business. All decisions, big or small, were made by the top two people and there was little or no communication up or down the chain, but huge demands were being made of those working on the shop floor.
I still remember the antagonism and disdain that came my way from the forecourt cashiers and the scepticism about my intentions from the site managers; many of whom hadn’t even met each other or the head office staff and had a very healthy distrust of each other.
My job in the early days was just talking to people and finding our why they were so discontented and apathetic about the job and the company. It really boiled down to one thing:
They had no purpose!
We had 86 members who came to work to do a job and go home with a salary. No one cared about how well they did the job or about the reputation of the company. If the company did not care about them then they didn’t care about the company. And why should they?
Two years later, we had fully engaged staff who would shout out to tell me about the sale they had made as I walked around. Staff who would apologise because someone had just walked through with muddy shoes and they hadn’t had time to mop the floor. Staff who would ring me up to ask me to come in and taste the new pastry or cake they had made in the bakery. People who laughed and smiled and told me about their families and wanted to know about mine. Site managers who worked collaboratively with each other and asked for advice and help. We were a work community and family.
I couldn’t have done that with the management team we had. We changed our Finance Director and built a robust management team. But there were already two people in the business who joined the management team that had the skills and attitude to make the changes seem effortless. They put their trust in me and implemented new ways of working that stretched them and those who worked under them. They made sure that I knew about every complaint and grievance as it was being spoken and also how we should approach settling them.
The main thing all 86 staff had was a purpose. They knew both the long -term and short-term plans for the company, and they knew where they fitted into that strategy. They also knew what they had to do to make sure we were all reach that destination, and they knew how it would benefit them personally.
In the last two years, I have found that I am very rarely required for the day to day operations although I still meet all members of staff on a regular basis. Our senior management team along with each site manager have taken on the challenges of keeping the ship moving in the direction we want it to go. They make changes when things are not going right and use the most important asset they have, common sense, to make decisions on a day to day basis.
During lockdown, apart from the initial planning we did in February and March, it was the people on the ground who worked tirelessly to make sure staff, customers and their own families stayed safe. They pivoted and started offering click and collect or even deliveries without any input from us. They stayed jovial and upbeat, even when they didn’t feel it, so that they could support their colleagues and customers. They kept us fully informed of what was required of us to support their efforts. Their hard work and enterprise have increased our in-store sales by 118% because of the goodwill they generated with the customers. They did this by going out of the way to make sure that their customers were looked after. Their purpose was very clear to them.
So how does this connect with legacy?
Over the last three or four years, we are constantly asked why our staff are ‘so good’. We have been asked by other companies to come in and take over their shops because ‘we know what to do with people’. Our competitors are keen to see how we have gone from a sleepy little company to one that commands respect with no huge outlay of capital. This is our legacy. What you have created becomes ingrained in the DNA of the business.
When and if we exit, this purpose and legacy will be a major asset to the business, and this is what they will be buying. What we will be doing is making sure that when it is time to exit, we will not be selling the business to someone who doesn’t understand why it works. We will be emphasising our core values and showing them off, so if we do have to move on, those values will be our billboard
We will continue empowering our people and creating a culture of can do.
This post has a lot about us in it but it is important that you are creating purpose in your business too. After all, you too should be thinking of your legacy.
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