This interesting Harvard Business Review article – The Best Companies Know How to Balance Strategy and Purpose – has an important message for all organisations from companies to charities and public bodies.

It’s main point is that an organisation’s core purpose should come first.

It’s the reason it exists. It should be a big, clear, enduring mission which everyone understands and it should drive every business decision.  Operational and marketing strategies should be subordinate to that purpose – and elastic enough to flex to fit changing circumstances.

The author points out that, by losing sight of its purpose and focusing too much on implementing any particular strategy, a company can easily lose its way – suddenly finding the market has changed or a rival with a more effective approach has displaced it.

The article cites examples, from the spice trade of hundreds of years ago to the way Apple more recently knocked Nokia off the mobile phone throne with a more effective way of  ‘connecting people’.

It also points at media, taxi, oil and gas as the next industries where established companies will have their purpose co-opted by dynamic new challengers if they don’t adapt their strategies fast.

These are good points, and I often experience this focus problem first-hand.

I sometimes find companies are clear on their current business strategy, but much less so about their core purpose.  And occasionally, when we work to address this, I sense a drive to retrofit the purpose to the strategy, instead of putting it first.

The same can go for long-range visions, where I find some companies develop a vision as an extension of their current strategy. Instead, they should think afresh about their ultimate goal – creating a bold future picture which captures their ambition and inspires the whole organisation, even if it necessitates changing tack and developing an entirely new strategy.

I think it’s important to get this right, defining purpose and vision first and foremost and developing your strategy to suit.

Then you can keep your purpose and vision constant and firmly in your sights, reviewing and adjusting your strategy as needed to ensure you keep on making the right progress.

This should ensure a clear business direction, strong internal culture and effective external marketing.


Get in touch to find out how we could help you define your business purpose, vision or marketing strategy.