What Your Employees and Customers Have in Common with 4-Year-Olds

organizations need purpose

On Parenting, Philosophers, Legos, and Not Actually Selling Your Kids

It was super annoying when we did it as kids. Our dads, if they had any hair remaining, probably wanted to tear it out. Our moms were exasperated, even wondering to themselves in darker moments why they had succumbed to that sparkle in your our daddies’ eyes a few years before. Eventually, it would culminate with one or both parents exclaiming with a mix of frustration and desperation, “Because!

The question of why has been around for a while. Philosophers have grappled with it for centuries and centuries, and barely-out-of-diapers kiddos seem to have an insatiable desire for an answer to the question as well.

Parents, you’re with me here, right?

We ask them to do something. Then comes their reply…

Why?

“Well, because I asked you to.”

But why?

“Because I just stepped on yet another one of your Legos, and the intense pain that’s shooting up and down the nerve endings in my leg and spine as a result of your toys not being picked up is causing me to think wildly irrational thoughts — thoughts that I’ll never, ever admit to whilst under oath, but that may or may not include selling either your Legos or you (we’ll see how nap time plays out) to a caravan of desert traders for pennies on the dollar.”

If you’re hearing a child’s voice in your head right now, you’re not crazy–you’re probably just a parent like me. (And stop judging me — of course I didn’t actually say that above.)

But here’s the thing: People’s desire to know WHY doesn’t go away when they get older and, say, work in or want to business with your organization.

Your WHY Should Drive Your Business

Ideally, the answer to the WHY question drives what your organization and its employees do. WHY is like that point on the horizon upon which your organization fixes its collective sight as it continues on its journey. It’s its purpose — its reason for existing as a business.

Your business's WHY is its fixed point on the horizon. #leadership Click To Tweet

The trouble is that too many organizations don’t have great (read: any) answers for the WHY question. The answer to that question is what provides context, identity, and meaning for what you and the rest of your organization does every day, so it’s imperative that you — as well as your employees and customers — know the answer.

Do your employees and customers know your organization's purpose? Is it meaningful? #leadership Click To Tweet

A WHY-Driven Business Example

Take for example an organization whose purpose, simply stated, is to “[Work] with people and communities to help them thrive and prosper.” Even a casual observer can see that this organization is very obviously guided by their answer to the WHY question; and their city is better off for them being there.

Their corporate social responsibility has evolved over time to the point that it’s more than a program — it’s the lifestyle of their employees and an integral and integrated part of their organizational culture. They constantly volunteer in their community. They invest significant amounts of money into developing their community, serving the under-served, and in short, doing exactly what their answer to the WHY question says — helping their community, and the people within it, thrive and prosper.

The specific line of business they’re in is but a vehicle to help them accomplish the WHY. That organization? It’s Vancity, a Canadian credit union. They’re in the financial services biz, but that’s not their WHY. It’s a means to an end. (As an aside, that’s part of why I love working with credit unions so much — their mission — their purpose — is so different from other financial institutions.)

Don’t Kid Yourself

Now, if you don’t think that sort of focus on having, communicating, and living out their WHY — their purpose — as a business isn’t important to both their employees and consumers alike, you’re kidding yourself.

People want to be a part of things that matter, whether that’s from an employment perspective or a consumer perspective.

I mean, think about it. We’re compelled by stories, and we’re moved by organizations and businesses that are doing good work for good causes. That’s why we donate time, money, and/or effort toward things in which we believe. We may or may not frequent different businesses based on their purpose.

People are compelled by real, human stories. #leadership #brand #storytelling Click To Tweet

Consider Tom’s Shoes. Good grief. You can’t walk around anywhere right now and not see them all over the place. Why is that? Is it because of their shoes’ fine, Italian craftmanship? Um, no. It’s that their message has resonated with people.

And why, pray tell, has that message resonated with consumers? Yes. You’ve no doubt put it together by now. It’s their WHY. The idea that when you buy a pair of shoes from them, someone in need will also receive a pair of shoes — that idea has connected with consumers. But realize this: it’s about purpose.

What About YOUR Business?

So what about your organization? What’s your answer to the why question? Do your employees know the answer? Do consumers? Better yet, do they see the organization living out the answer every day? If an organization really gets it, and they’ve answered the why question well, the why subsequently informs the what, when, where, and how of the organization as well. Need help with that? We’ve got you covered. Give us a shout!

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