Clarifying your Purpose

The North Star has been used for the purposes of navigation for centuries. Acting as a guiding light, people have used its brightness and prominence in the sky to ensure they are travelling in the right direction.  The principle of the North Star works as a fantastic analogy in the world of business. In this column, I ask readers to consider whether or not you, or/and your colleagues know whether your business is travelling in the ‘right direction’.

I have been involved in the world of business improvement and customer experience for over twenty years. For the last four years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to see and experience organisations across a variety of industries all over the world. Whilst I observe a number of similar issues and opportunities (to improve and become more customer centric), one of the most common observations I make is on the subject of ‘clarity of purpose’.

I believe that businesses around the globe are suffering from the common phenomenon of a LACK of clarity of purpose. My belief seems to be echoed by a number of Customer Experience specialists and commentators. If you look at the dictionary definition of ‘purpose’, it is quite simple:

“the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”

Every single person in an organisation SHOULD have a very clear sense of understanding the reasons why the organisation does what it does AND why the organisation exists. The problem is that I do not think there are many organisations where this simple understanding actually exists.

To test the theory, go and seek ten employees at random in your place of work. Ask them these two questions:

  1. What does our organisation do?
  2. Why does our organisation exist?

It will be fascinating to see what responses you get. If the responses are very similar, then it is possible that there is clarity of purpose in your business. If the answers are varied and different – perhaps not.

Developing a very clear and well understood organisational purpose is critical if the business is likely to succeed in its attempts to sustainably achieve its strategic goals. If employees have differing senses of the ‘reason for being’ of an organisation, then this will and can only translate into the delivery of random customer experiences. If you want your customers to have a consistent customer experience, all employees need to know what that consistent customer experience should be.

I have been working with a global financial services business. They have clarified their purpose as ‘enabling positive futures’ – in other words, the better able they are to deliver financial services, the more likely they are to enable the positive futures of their customers. They key is that every employee in their business needs to be conscious of this in everything they do.

This is why I like to think of an organisations purpose as the ‘North Star’ – the simple statement that everyone should follow – in the same direction. There is no right way or wrong way to do this – what is important is that everyone is going in the same direction.

Helping to develop a ‘North Star’ is a vital skill for any Customer Experience Professional – ultimately, the greater the clarity of purpose, the easier it will then be to determine how capable the customer journey is of bringing the purpose to life (or not, as the case may be!). If you are looking for a very simple way to develop this for yourself, consider following these very simple steps:

  1. Clarify the WHAT – what exactly is it that your organisation does – it’s products and services
  2. Clarify the WHY – why do you deliver these products and services – what is the purpose of them – your North Star
  3. Clarify the HOW – how are you going to ensure that you can enable the WHY – these constitute ‘promises’ or ‘commitments’ that you will make to your customers
  4. Clarify the ‘DESIRED CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE’ – if you can do the WHAT, WHY and HOW perfectly, what would be your simple description of the way you want your customers to FEEL?

Do not overcomplicate this exercise – one PowerPoint slide is sufficient to describe all of the above. It does not need to look fancy – it just needs to make simple sense – for everyone.

So if having read this column you are concerned that there may be a lack of clarity of purpose in your organisation, carry out these steps. Getting everyone to follow a North Star will not just enable you to deliver better, more consistent experiences for your customers, it will also vastly improve the employee experience as well.


This post was originally written exclusively for my column on CustomerThink – a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises. The site serves 80,000+ visitors per month from 200 countries.

You can read my column here!

customer think advisor_2016