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Owning up to (y)our purpose
Being true to your company’s purpose makes you special. Owning up to your true purpose could be the most important thing you ever do.
Being clear on your company’s purpose makes you special. Owning up to your true purpose could be the most important thing you ever do. We’ve just done exactly that. There’s a lesson for everyone in the process we went through.
Over the past six months we’ve been taking some time to decide what the future of our business looks like. After fifteen years, we’d learned plenty of lessons, so it seemed as good a time as any to decide what we want to do for the next fifteen.
We do this for our clients all the time and, for once, things turned out very much the same way for ourselves.
Early strategic work with our clients often leads to a restatement of, and refocusing on, their purpose as an organisation. Purpose plays a very important role in our service-led approach to strategy work.
In many cases, we simply get clients to ‘own up’ to their purpose, focusing their activity on the real essence of their business. What emerges is a simpler, more focused business that finds it much easier to define its distinctive position in the world, and its strategy for capitalising on that.
I spent a few months earlier in the year speaking to a range of people we’ve worked with. Some had worked with us for many years, often across multiple organisations.
The insights were incredibly powerful and helped us define our strategy for the future… or, more honestly, to simplify it.
Owning up to our purpose was very much a part of that process.
Seeing the obvious
Many, many years ago we defined our purpose as ‘helping established organisations thrive in the digital age’. A few years ago we shifted to ‘helping established organisations realise their digital potential’, but the essence of it was the same.
Hold that thought.
As I spoke to people about Wilson Fletcher and where they saw most value in what we do, the feedback was pretty consistent — and one thing in particular emerged from someone we’ve known and worked with for more than a decade. It went something like:
“You know you’re ****ing idiots right?”
I thanked him for his wisdom and asked him to elaborate, more gently if possible.
“You’ve literally changed our business completely in the time you worked with us — almost everything is different now. But you never use the word ‘business’ in anything. You always talk about what you are, but rarely about what you achieve. I think it’s time you owned up.”
The ‘owning up’ part hit home, and was the most direct expression of what pretty much everyone else had said. In hindsight, as these things always are, it was obvious.
Back to the writing board
Shortly after, we decided to rethink the company’s purpose as if we were starting from scratch — but this time, ‘owning up’ to that bigger agenda was front and centre in our thinking.
Where we ended up was, I’m happy to say, where we’d always been — but with sharper focus and a clearer strategy.
While the outcomes here are about us, it’s the same process we’d go through with any company. Let us show you why it’s worth doing, using our agency as an example.
Establishing a purpose-centred proposition
We started by owning up in our core proposition, which is now expressed as ‘business innovation by design’. That’s the most accurate and honest proposition we’ve ever had, and, critically, it could (perhaps, ahem, should) have been on the door on day one.
Business innovation is always the outcome of our work: we help companies become stronger digital-age businesses. We always have.
By design speaks to our centre of gravity as a design company: we use a design methodology for everything we do, whether it’s a business or an interface. It also highlights the purposeful nature of what we do and how we work: this is business innovation with strategic intent, built on purpose.
We ended up with a core proposition that feels very personal and familiar to us, but also gives us a platform for some ambitious plans for the future.
This is exactly the outcome that we drive for in our work with our clients, so we feel like we’ve finally taken a full dose of our own medicine here.
Defining our customer
Defining our customers has always been a challenge, and we usually talked about our clients being ‘established organisations’. That’s true, technically, but there’s a type of person in those organisations that we always seem to be approached by. And, we often work with those people as they move between organisations.
We’ve taken to calling them ‘transformers’, because they are usually the people who are driving innovation or who have been licensed to make it happen in their company.
A good number, particularly in mid-market companies and below, have been CEOs or other senior execs whose central responsibility is to drive the company forward. In the really large organisations we work with, they’re often leaders of strategic transformation or innovation, or leaders of operational departments.
In every case, they’re people who are ambitious for their company’s future and are prepared to pull out all the stops to make it happen. It’s a very demanding role; no matter how senior they are, they will frequently have to counter everything from intransigence and protectionism to straight-out obstructiveness from the people around or above them.
Focusing more on the people that we work with, rather than the organisations, has enabled us to focus more on the specific challenges they face and to ensure that the way we work with them helps them achieve their ambitions more effectively. That, in turn, helps their organisations achieve theirs.
Simplifying our offer
We always advise our clients of the dangers of the word ‘and’. It literally exists to enable complication by expansion.
We were using it a lot. In our defence, what we do has never been easy to describe. In almost sixteen years now, we have never done exactly the same thing twice, so we erred on the side of caution and tried to be more expansive in how we described what we do. There were ands everywhere.
Our ‘what’ is now: ’We design the future of businesses, services and experiences.’
This isn’t fully and-free yet, but it’s much simpler than we’ve ever had before.
We have longer-form versions that allow people to get into more detail of course, but those two statements broadly capture what we do. More than anything else, they define what we don’t do. If you want a partner who can help you become an innovation-led digital business (and it’s important to understand what we mean by that), we’re it. If you want anything else, we’re not.
We don’t particularly like the word digital, but we still use it in some places because the people we work with use it. In our line of work, we help clients choose the right language to create rapid connections with their customers that they can build on. It’s appropriate that we do the same for ourselves.
Wrapping it all up
So where does that leave us?
We’re (finally) ‘a business innovation company’.
Our purpose is ‘we exist to help every company become a business fit for the future’
We recognise that transformers — the people leading innovation in established organisations — are our core customers.
We ‘design the future of businesses, services and experiences’.
We’ll revisit it all in a few years, and, I hope, end up with a newly-refined version of what we are today… because our purpose has never changed.