The second principle in our “think like a social enterprise” series is to be able to clearly define the purpose of your enterprise in a single sentence without using jargon.
Too many businesses wander around the world without a clear purpose.
These enterprises are like ships without a destination and a lighthouse to guide them.
A van recently drove past me with the phrase “innovative sustainable solutions” painted on the side.
This got me thinking about whether its management team was able to make strategic decisions. I also wondered what its customers thought and how engaged its staff were.
Look around and you’ll notice that successful enterprises have clearly defined their purpose using simple language. They know what they do and why they do it. For example, the purpose of Steps Charity (a non-profit) is to “eliminate clubfoot in Africa”.
The business has a clear sense about what it should focus on in order to be successful.
There is also evidence that clarity of purpose helps bring staff, customers and strategic partners closer to an enterprise. It helps instill a sense of ownership.
Leaders should therefore consider making purpose a central focus of their enterprises. They should help staff realise how they are contributing to this purpose. This will increase levels of engagement, creativity and productivity. After all, a business is a community.
The purpose of a business is never to just capture market share and make money. This is like saying your purpose on earth is to eat food and breathe air.
Charles Handy recommends that all enterprises realise that they play an important role in society. He suggests that they define their purpose in social terms, and clearly explain why they exist and how they contribute to society.
Once upon a time, vision and mission statements were used to convey the purpose of an enterprise.
Unfortunately, these have tended to become so abstract and full of jargon that they’re almost useless now. Hence, my advice to focus on purpose instead.
Entrepreneurs should first try to understand their own purpose in life. Start off by knowing yourself, and remember that the purpose of your enterprise should ideally serve your own personal purpose.
Once you’ve learnt this principle, you should be able to say “the purpose of (insert your enterprises name) is to …., and we do this by…”.
- Marcus Coetzee is a strategist at the African Social Entrepreneurs Network. Visit www.marcuscoetzee.co.za