On the surface, it was the perfect organization
The Globe and Mail, September 9 2011
Employees find greater purpose in top-performing organization. Nurse Next Door Home Healthcare Services, the Vancouver-based company founded by John DeHart and Ken Sim, was one of Canada’s fastest growing companies. New franchises were opening, sales were increasing and proﬁts were growing.
Just one thing was missing.
“We hated working there,” says Mr. DeHart. “A culture had developed and we were no longer doing what we’d set out to do.”
So, six years ago, the two founders looked at the world’s most sustained brands for guidance in rebuilding their company and realigning it with its original core purpose.
“These companies all have raving fan cultures,” notes Mr. Dehart. “Their employees are passionate and are inspired by their work. That’s why these companies outperform their competitors.”
“Top performing organizations are purpose-driven,” agrees Roy Spence, co-author of the best-selling book, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose. “Their objective isn’t the bottom line. It is a purpose that sets out how they intend to make a difference in the world.”
Mr. Spence, whose Austin, Texas-based ﬁrm, GSD&M, helps organizations grow their brands, says an organization’s purpose, unlike mission statements or advertising slogans, isn’t something that can be invented or imposed.
“The purpose is the reason why the organization was founded. It may have evolved and need to be rediscovered, but it is always inherent in the organization,” Mr. Spence says.
Purpose statements may be ambitious, but they are typically straightforward:
- Disney: Using imagination to bring happiness to people
- Whole Foods: Nourishing the mind, body, soul and community
- Southwest Airlines: Giving people the freedom to ﬂy
- Nurse Next Door: Making lives better
“Our purpose guides our organization,” Mr. DeHart says. “We make every decision by asking: Will the result make people’s lives better? If the answer is no, then we know it is outside our core purpose, so we don’t pursue it.”
A core purpose and clear core values also empower and inspire employees. At Nurse Next Door employees have the authority to make decisions, even if that sometimes means they make mistakes. “The only concern I have is that the decisions they make be consistent with our purpose and core values,” says Mr. DeHart. While an organizational purpose can make decisions clearer, that doesn’t mean they’ll also be easier.
“It takes guts to live your purpose and core values,” he says, “because it means sometimes having to say no to something that otherwise might seem very attractive.”
Mr. Spence agrees. “Companies get off track when they make decisions that are inconsistent with their organization’s purpose,” he says.