INSTANT MBA: Ask These 3 Questions To Identify Purpose

tony schwartz

Today’s advice comes from Tony Schwartz, chief executive of The Energy Project, via The New York Times Dealbook:

“Higher purpose is not a common characteristic of the corporate world … I fully understand that a primary obligation of any business is to earn a profit, and that without one, nothing else is possible. But what if they believed that articulating and embracing a nobler purpose would help them to attract, inspire and retain better employees, and ultimately make their companies more profitable?” 

Schwartz says that truly successful companies can maximise impact by committing to a cause through their products, practices, and services. Companies that are good examples of this mission-oriented model are Whole Foods, Patagonia, and Toms. This leads to more engaged employees, increased productivity, and increased profits.

There are three questions Schwartz recommends executives regularly ask to develop a competitive advantage:

1. What is our noblest purpose and are we fulfilling it?

2. How can we give our employees a greater sense of meaning in what they do, so they feel more enthusiastic about coming to work every morning?

3. In what practical ways can we add more value in the world (and do less harm)?

According to Schwartz, answering these three questions will clarify impact and purpose. 

“In the simplest terms, a purpose defines the difference an organisation is trying to make in the world. In some cases, that’s a natural and straightforward outgrowth of what the organisation actually does to earn a profit.”

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