When companies start to grow and bring in more people, something happens. The founders become removed from the team – they can’t personally know everyone any more. Naturally the enlarged group starts to explore new ideas. And often opportunities appear in new areas. Before you know it, the business can be going off in different directions – and through no other fault than ‘just because it can’.
Take a look at big companies. GKN, now at threat of being bought by Melrose, started life as Dowlais Ironworks Co back at the start of the 19th Century. Today, they are a major engineering group in a whole range of different industries. What is their purpose? Where does their future lie? We will find out soon.
Carillion is a much-mentioned business these days – and for all the wrong reasons. Hindsight is a great thing, but looking back at its branding and inception, you do wonder what it set out to do. Carillion was borne out of a demerger from Tarmac. Carillion took the Construction arm; Tarmac stuck to its materials business. What happened next has now become a lesson in mismanagement, but it also highlights a fundamental lack of purpose. Of course, there was a strategy, but was there a purpose? It simply didn’t seem to know where its natural home was; and instead tried to colonise various areas of industry.
This self-awareness is critical. Recently, I came across the story of Propellernet, a SEO and Search Marketing agency. It has achieved incredible success and is one of the UK’s Best Places To Work. But a few years back, things were not well. Everyone was having fun. They had a great culture. But client billability was only at 30% or less. They were making money most months, but some months not. Crucially one of the things that they didn’t have clarity on was their purpose. Here’s an extract from the up-coming book:
“But it wasn’t just the finances that were in bad shape. We also didn’t have sufficient clarity on what we were doing, where we were going or how we were going to get there.
“Jack could sell anything; but he was the only person who could sell what we were offering, and the rest of us weren’t entirely sure what that was. It was hard for us to create a unique offer that appealed to a strong base of clients, because we hadn’t got it out of Jack’s head and into a proposition that we could all understand.”
Founders often know what they are doing, but does the rest of the business? The same can also be said for corporates. The leaders may have a clear idea, but does the rest of the organisation? It’s not simply about strategy – because that’s about as interesting as reading Ulysses. What are we here for? Is it something that matters? Can I believe in it?
Personally I can’t wait until the Superengaged book comes out. It looks like a great story of facing up to some hard truths, taking some hard decisions and fundamentally focusing on a purpose and strategy that people have bought in. They have an amazingly low staff turnover for this industry.