Purpose-driven-Organisations: Start your 2022 with a WHY!

Nike does it, Patagonia does it and your brand should probably do it too: get yourself a brand purpose for 2022 and therefore a ton of money for free. Fake News? Get to know the new way of strategic thinking and acting in a world of constant change, as we did.

Has your company found its North Star yet?

There was smoke all over Los Angeles. Thick, grey clouds over the City of Angels, while an American landmark, the thousand-year-old Sequoia trees succumbed in a sea of flames. In the early 70s, few people attributed great importance to this atrocious sight. Patagonia was, at that time, still a relatively small brand, but its founder had great ambitions. Instead of simply selling karabiners for climbers and making a profit, Yvon Chouinard was looking for a bigger meaning. Seeing those Sequoias burn, he recognized that our world is undergoing man-made change and that he and his brand have to bear economic responsibility and ecological ones. The years went by and Patagonia developed into a global player. One of the reasons was a question, as simple as “Why?”, although or perhaps because they were looking for a greater meaning, a “Why” in all their doing.

Start your brand’s purpose with a WHY

Patagonia’s efforts cumulated and finally found their crescendo in the world-famous “Don’t buy this Jacket” campaign of 2011. While many in the industry were sceptical about this coup at the time, in hindsight this was a winning approach. And an approach that will almost simultaneously (and maybe independently) presented in 2010 by Simon Sinek. Back then, Sinek took the trouble of summarizing the business value of purpose-driven organizations for the whole world.

In one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, he explained why companies better put the “Why” in front of everything else. Long story short, Sinek’s theory is that in the age of hyper transparency every company is or could potentially be equally good. Also, customers are attracted to brands like Apple, Nike or Patagonia because they offer more than just a shapely heap of aluminium, rubber produced in China or functional jackets. They know about the purpose of these companies. It is of benefit not only to the customers, more often than not it shines brightest in the company itself. In a nutshell, your brand purpose could potentially be something like a North Star to your employees that is leading them through the cold night.

And just before you started to miss the “Why” of these seemingly fragmented pieces of stories and wonder what could this have to do with your company or my company, a traditional newspaper trying to transform its business strategy, allow me to invite you into the story of how the transformation of our newspaper began.

As you may know, many traditional industries are threatened in their business model by the changes of digitalization. One of them is the newspaper and media industry. Although my company is still a leader in its core areas, print circulation and thus profits are slowly melting away. To initiate change in these disruptive times, a courageous and systemic approach was chosen. Together with an external consulting agency, we follow the path of a systemic change process. Something completely new for the industry, something completely new for the consultants and something completely new for a traditional media company like us.

Great irritation drives change

So how does this new way of working actually work, you might ask? To bring as much irritation as possible into the process, we not only changed our way of thinking from a short-term strategy to a long-term purpose. We have also introduced a new working method: Agile working in so-called “loops”. But what does that mean? Interdisciplinary teams take a topic each month and solve it until a regular review meeting where everyone in the program meets and report on their success. This makes every decision more binding and even creates a friendly competition between the teams to make the most progress possible. These “sprints” are accompanied repeatedly by external consultants to anchor principles of the new way of working.

After two whole years of agile work, we are quite happy with all the great things we have achieved in 2020 and so far in 2021. And we are looking forward to the countless things that we will accomplish in 2022. Do you know what the best thing about a purpose-driven organization is? Even when setbacks occur, everyone in the process knows that all decisions are made to achieve the purpose, not to achieve the opportunistic goals of individuals. Sounds terrific, right?

Finally, you probably want to know what our brand purpose actually is now? Maybe we’ll tell you and the world about it in 2022. Just one more thing: We have a purpose now, and it’s great. So, what’s yours?

PS: If you are interested in how agile working can actually work in a traditional-organized environment, drop me a comment and I will make a follow-up blog post on this topic.

Digital product designer and project lead @kleinezeitung interactive. Writing about web design as well as content and brand strategy.