In the last months of 2005, a 33 year-old english man that ran a marketing company in New York was going through a difficult time. Business was going well, but he was not: he had lost his sense of purpose on his work.
-I usually am an optimist- he said, -but these months I has struggling with something very close to depression. I has now motivated.
At the beginning of year 2006 a woman explained to him how the human brain works, and that piqued his curiosity. So he obsessed with understanding why we do what we do:
-I understood the origin of my stress: it was not that I had forgotten what I did or how I did it. Mi problem was that I had forgotten WHY I did it, and I needed to find out.
For the next three years he dedicated himself to talking about this wherever he could. He asked for $100 USD to speak about this topic. Until one day he was invited to give his first TEDx Talk in front of 50 people in Seattle. The english man accepted and named his talk “How great leaders inspire action”.
The main idea of this conversation is: inspiring leaders and organizations talk first about their why’s– why they do what they do-, before talking about what they do or how they do it.
Today, the video version of that TEDx Talk has more than 40 million reproductions, but this is very little compared to the impact the talk has had in the world of business, organizations and leadership.
(For example, from this talk, the consulting firm Ernst & Young started to offer Purpose-Lead Transformation services, and founded Beacon Institute, an organization focused on conducting research about the topic of purpose in organizations). I share with you this article published by Entrepreneur, explaining more about this great impact.
Since then, he has published several books and has dedicated his life to “building a world where the vast majority of people leave their work feeling accomplished”.
By the way, he no longer charges $100 USD for a talk, he now charges around $200,000 USD to speak at an event.
If you have never seen this TEDx Talk I’m talking about- I am talking about Simon Sinek, just in case you had not figured it out yet-, you should watch it before you keep reading this article. I’ll leave the link right below. It is very probable that it will strongly impact you and your life too.
I’d like to dedicate the rest of this article to tell you a story about how a SME (small / medium-sized enterprise) company from Monterrey (ourselves, Astrolab), have tried to implement Sinek’s advice since 2011 to today, and the results this has had.
I will be very transparent and try to make up the story the least I can: the intention with this article is that the experience we’ve had at Astrolab can be useful to you, regardless if you work in a SME or a corporate with 100,000 employees.
Simon Sinek and the origins of Astrolab
On July, 2011, Oscar and I wrote a series of blog posts in our personal sites. That conversation would be the start of what we know today as Astrolab. In one of those writings, Oscar cited Simon Sinek this way:
“Great leaders, inspiring leaders, communicate in a special way. Simon Sinek explains this very well with his Golden Circle, and reminds me a little of my philosophy or journalism classes, why? how? what?”
From that posts the idea of building a workshop where we could share tools with leaders so they could more easily inspire others was born. (that’s where the name Inspira was born, too).
But that was just the beginning of the influence Sinek has had in Astrolab’s story.
On June, 2012- with just two months left before kicking off the first Inspira workshop- I bought Start With Why, Simon Sinek’s book. His words resonated so deeply in me, that I gave one to Oscar as well as a birthday present, a few weeks later.
Then started our conversations about how to speak about Astrolab, starting with our why, as Sinek said. In other words, we started questioning ourselves what was Astrolab’s purpose.
A few months later we wrote the following statement in our webpage:
“There will always be new ideas because we will always have the ability to imagine them.
That is why we were excited -Oscar and I- when we discovered this new take on storytelling fifteen months ago. We got excited not because we discovered the concept of stories (we all did that every two years), but because we discovered that others were using them to build brands, to move audiences, to generate change and to communicate better.
And with excitement, during and after, came curiosity: what if we do the same? What if we start studying the topic to solve problems using narratives? Curiosity became discipline, and discipline brought us face to face with the need to organize ourselves.
Then we founded Astrolab: as a desire to learn why we liked stories so much and to learn how to use them to attract the attention of the business world and put the people at the center of the economy and commerce. ”
“Putting the person at the center” was the first way we found of manifesting Astrolab’s purpose.
Two years later we evolved to something like this: “Behind all of our work the ideal exits of humanizing companies, of putting people at the center of decision making”.
But what did it mean to us that about “putting people at the center”? In that same post we clarified it:
Pero ¿qué significaba para nosotros esto de poner a la persona en el centro? En esa misma publicación lo aclarábamos:
“You and I are in our jobs at least 40 hours each week (longer than we spend awake in our house). Why not help make those 40 hours more satisfying, more motivating, and less tiring? That is what we mean by humanizing.”
Three redefinitions of our purpose
This last purpose statement had just wan little problem, it was too broad, and that weekend it.
So on March 2016 we wrote the following in our blog: “We realized that we were not being consistent: we promoted the idea of purpose, but we did not have a clear one that was assimilated by everyone and that influenced our operation.”
So Gerardo, Oscar and I locked ourselves up for a few days and defined a new purpose for Astrolab that was more applicable:
“Astrolab believes that you can inspire others… Astrolab exists to give you tools to make this easier. In this we believe and for this we get up in the morning. ”
At the ending of that same year we made a little adjustment, derived from the work we’d been doing for the las months. What changed was essentially that realized that inspiring others was not enough. Sometimes you needed to provide other kind tools for leaders, and nos just inspiring tools.
Much of what we did was about helping our clients implement new strategies, projects and initiatives, so we rephrases our purpose to this: “Make things happen”.
But we were still not totally comfortable with our choice of words.
I remember starting a lot of sales meetings with this same words (“Astrolab wants to help you make things happen”) and noticing it did not trigger a lot in the minds of my clients and prospects.
Internally, we felt these words fell short to represent the magnitud of our dreams and the urgency of our work.
So at the end of 2017, we locked ourselves up one more time to rethink not only the words we were going to use to talk about our purpose, but everything we worked for.
What did we really want to achieve with everything we were doing? Why did we get up in the morning? How could we make sure everything we did- our workshops, services, culture, innovation efforts, organizational habits, weekly meetings- was fed up by this idea?
In this double feature article posted in 2018 (part I and part II) we describe how we got to the concept of “Changing how we work and interact”, our current purpose.
Six ways of making the most of an organizational purpose
There are two main challenges when defining and making the most of a purpose: the first is that is englobes the dreams fo founders and leaders.
It is not that easy to get several people to agree on the ultimate goal of a company, and less so considering that the wishes of every person mature and refine over the years, but it is necessary and essential if you want to make the most of the primary source of energy in all of them: their long to transcend.
The second challenge is that this purpose has to merge and represent everything that the company does.
It is useless to display the purpose everywhere if it is not used as a reference to act, to serve customers or to create new products and services.
There is no use having a purpose if you are not going to take it seriously.
In Astrolab, our purpose has these uses:
1) We use it to open our sales meetings and most of our conversations with new clients or people we meet.
A few months back they told me about José Luis Pier, CEO of Lowe’s Mexico, and how he starts most of his meetings quoting the organization’s purpose (“Our purpose is to Help Mexicans love the place where they live”).
If I met you recently, it is very likely that one of the first lines you heard from me was something like: “Astrolab exists to chance the way we work and interact”, or the alternative: “We exist to improve the way we work and interact in big organizations”.
This shows that our purpose is much more than just a slogan.
2) It helps us welcome everyone that visits astrolab.mx
If you go into our website you can see our purpose proudly displayed in the cover screen.
3) It helps us welcome everyone that visits our office
If you come visit our place, you can see our purpose displayed in our front door.
4) It helps us start onboarding sessions
This way we can show new team members that in Astrolab we take our purpose seriously since day 1… and that we expect them to do the same.
5) You can read it in our business cards and e-mail footer
6) We have it at the center of the conversation when we are designing proposals or prospect presentations
We are constantly asking ourselves the following question whilst we are working on a business proposal: How can we make true this about “Changing the way we work and interact” through this particular project? How can we help them work better?
Postdata: This article’s audience
One of the main obstacles while writing this article was defining who was the audience, to whom it was addressed.
My main audience usually is composed of Gen X and Millennials that work in bug corporations: I tend to think of them when I write on behalf of Astrolab.
The problem with addressing them is that probably less than 1% of this audience has the authority or capability of making decisions and influencing in the purpose definition of the organizations they work for. Do you work in CEMEX? FEMSA? There is a very small chance you can directly affect these organizations purposes.
With this in mind, and after talking about this with my team at Astrolab, we decided that it still makes sense to speak directly to them, to you.
We thought about it this way:
Chances are that we cannot make the decision to choose one or another purpose for your companies, but we can surely help define and apply the purpose of your team or the area you directly work in. And you can always find your personal purpose and use it to grow … or keep it in mind in case you decide to start your own business someday.
How are you going to take advantage of these ideas?
Has Simon Sinek’s TEDx influenced your professional life? How do you use the concept of purpose? How is it used in your organization?
Leave your comment, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me, or send me a WhatsApp message and we will have a coffee to chat (8114691064).