Date: 08/12/2017 | By: Kevin Brent

This blog on Core Purpose follows on from the one on Core Values and together they make up what Jim Collins calls your Core Ideology.

Together with our Envisioned Future which we will come on to later, they make up our Vision – a fundamental starting point for creating a robust strategy.

So we should now have worked on our core values and started to get some buy in from our team – so what do we mean by Core Purpose?

It is about Understanding why you do what you do  – not just what you do – Simon Sinek also refers to it as ‘Start With Why’ and you can find his TED talk online.

A strong core ideology is absolutely fundamental to long term success.  You need to have identified and be able to articulate why you do what you do.  A good core purpose will help you to re-kindle the passion you have in what you do and help with focus – it should be something that you are passionate about and the reason you get out of bed each morning to do what you do – but it will also do two other things:

  1. It will help you to think outside the box and identify other things you can do that support your core purpose – so it will help you to think expansively about things you could do
  2. It will also help you to focus and help you to reject ideas that do not fit with your core purpose

Let me give you an example of what I mean about thinking outside the box;

A number of years ago I was a director of a medium sized business (£35m) that provided home care delivery services to chronically ill people under hospital care but living at home – fundamentally we were a logistics company delivering high value and critical medicines to patients at home.

Our revenues were based on contracts with hospital trusts and margins were under increasing pressure – in the early years we were able to charge a percentage of the value of the medications but the model was changing to a fixed fee per delivery.

We took time out to do the exercises on core values and core purpose.  We looked at what we did but asked ourselves why we did it – and we came to the conclusion that what we were passionate about/ the reason we were in business was to help avoid unplanned or unnecessary admissions to hospital.  After all, the patients we delivered to had serious long term conditions that if not managed well would mean that they would end up back in hospital – something that the patients and families didn’t want but also something that the hospitals were keen to avoid because unplanned admissions are very expensive.

Once we started thinking this way it led us down the path of asking the reasons for unplanned admissions and what we could do to help avoid them.  Many of the reasons came down to not taking the medications correctly – which of course can be down to not having them delivered on time but also can be down to forgetting, can be down to not understanding how and why the need to take them and a number of other things.  So we developed a range of reminder and adherence or compliance programmes to help patients and their carers to make sure that the medications were correctly administered at the recommended time and frequency.  Of course we needed to consider who would pay and we found that hospitals and the pharmaceutical companies were keen to support these kind of services.

So we expanded our range of services to higher margin services where margins were not being constantly squeezed – and it started with asking ‘why’ we do what we do.

If you do this exercise properly and give it the thought it deserves, you may well have some real ‘light bulb’ moments.  It will also give your team – both current and future – a real sense of purpose in what they do rather than just turning up and working their hours.  When things get tough and we come up against obstacles in our path – which happens at times for all of us – it helps provide motivation to find a way through or around.

We did this exercise for a telephone call minding service and agreed on their core purpose of ‘making the right first impression for our customers’ – simple but powerful.  Everything they do is about that – so they can develop processes and procedures to make sure this is what they do – and they can measure it also.  They can include it in their staff evaluations and they also then built it into their recruitment process – holding the first interview over the telephone and deciding very quickly if the candidate was able to make a good first impression, before progressing to a longer second step.  It also helped them to think about areas that they may not want to pursue – such as admin services unless directly linked to creating and impression with the clients’ customers.

To begin discovering your Core Purpose, try the Five Whys exercise.

Start with WHAT you do. Write the statement on a flip chart or white board: “We make X products or deliver Y services”.

Next, ask “WHY is that important”? Write the answer on the flip chart or white board.

  • Ask the WHY question again and again (up to 5 times typically), each time brainstorming and recording your answers.
  • Review all the different answers to the WHY question with your team, searching for the answer that resonates most, generates some passion, and gets to the heart of your organisation’s Core Purpose.

The goal is to ask the question until you get to the true essence of your purpose, one that can guide the organization in the decisions it makes and attracts and motivates employees. 

We find it helpful to have the flip charts with the core values from the last exercise on the walls – a good core purpose will often include elements of the core values.

It is important to think long term with your core purpose – this is something that should remain true pretty much forever – so don’t limit it with a particular technology or similar.

In the resources I have included some examples of core purposes from some well-known companies courtesy of Jim Collins as well as some lesser known to help give you more of an idea of what we are looking for. 

Now you have these, the final step on core values is to test them.

Jim Collins has some great questions to do this and ensure that we have found a really are strong core purpose– so ask the team the following and if we can’t answer in the affirmative then we need to re-think: – you can find these questions in the resources with this tutorial



Do you find this purpose personally inspiring?



Can you envision this purpose being as valid 100 years from now as it is today?



Does the purpose help you think expansively about the long-term possibilities and range of activities the organization can consider over the next 100 years, beyond its current products, services, markets, industries, and strategies? (For example, Disney’s purpose to make people happy helped propel the company from its initial strategy of cartoons into full-length feature animation, the Mickey Mouse Club, Disneyland, EPCOT Center, and so on.)



Does the purpose help you to decide what activities to not pursue, to eliminate from consideration? (For example, HP would not pursue markets where there are no opportunities to make a technical contribution.)



Is this purpose authentic—something true to what the organisation is all about—not merely words on paper that “sound nice”?




Would this purpose be greeted with enthusiasm rather than cynicism by a broad base of people in the organisation?



When telling your children and/or other loved ones what you do for a living, would you feel proud in describing your work in terms of this purpose?


So that wraps up core purpose and you have now defined your core ideology and are well on the way to having established the foundations of your strategy.

Next up we are going to define our Envisioned Future starting with our description of where we want to be in 10 to 15 years time