Why (and how) to define the purpose of his project?
A proposition of a structure to write an authentic and operational purpose
Just open a random book on entrepreneurship and you will read that it is needed to define a vision and mission for your project. Simon Sinek’s Ted Talks, Start with Why, even if scientifically approximate, is particularly effective in encouraging us to explain about the “why”. For a project, we usually speak about the purpose, but we can also say “the reason to be” (I really like this solution). This idea is even in the actuality of a few countries that want to encourage companies to be mission-driven ones by changing the law.
For my part, I can only insist on that point as I am convinced that it is an essential tool for a team and a project. However, I encountered two difficulties in addressing this topic:
- how to be authentic?
- how can I make these two statements really operational?
Basically: Stop bullshit communication. I really want to have a purpose in which I really believe but I also wanted to define this purpose in a way that was useful in my daily life.
In this article, I propose a structure in three levels to tackle these problems:
1 — the vision — 2 — the beliefs — 3 — the mission
Before detailing this model, here is the first definition of the purpose/reason to be and why I find it essential to define it.
The purpose answers the question of why your project exists
This is why I like to speak about the reason to be because with the name you understand its meaning. The purpose of a project explains the reason for its existence. It is the sense of what is done, the ambition or the dream pursued by the project or the direction it takes and maintains.
Defining this is essential at three levels: for the project, for all the stakeholders, but also (and perhaps above all) for the initiator of the project.
For the project, this makes sure that all our actions serve this purpose and eventually give up some of them sooner if needed). Moreover, by detaching ourselves from what we do concretely to focus on what we want to serve, we no longer see our offer as an ending point but as a means. This opens up a huge field of possibilities. The purpose is thus a strategic decision-making tool and a lever of innovation that allows us to always keep in mind the ambition we have.
For stakeholders, it is, first of all, a lever of motivation and consistency over time. At a time when the quest for meaning at work is strong, it allows employees, for example, to know what they are involved in and give them a good reason to get up every morning. For customers, Simon Sinek express very well how efficient it is in a marketing message. And for an investor, it is particularly important to ensure a coherent development that does not only serve his personal interests.
Finally, it is essential for the person who initiates the project to take a step back on what drives her or him and to be able to keep it in mind during all the development of the project.
Indeed, I am convinced that we do not start anything without being truly driven by the project. Beyond the existence of a market, I think that what makes us choose an opportunity among an infinity of others, are aspirations and personal convictions. But, I observe that we are rarely aware of these personal reasons. The first idea is nearly always aligned with who we are and what we want to bring, but there is a significant risk of missing out this purpose if we do not take the time to identify it. However, I am convinced (and I observe) that to stay motivated and always find energy in the face of difficulties, the project must remain consistent with these initial aspirations. We must, therefore, take the time to raise awareness.
In conclusion, the purpose is a little bit like the top of the mountain that can be shown at the beginning of an expedition. If everyone identifies and is motivated by this perspective, then we can easily get everyone moving in the same direction. We do not know yet how we will go there, but the team will be determined to reach it. This allows the expedition (our project) to maintain coherence over time, the crew (the stakeholders) to remain motivated and the leader (the entrepreneur) to be able to regularly take a step back ensure that the expedition is consistent with its initial ambition.
The purpose reflects the initial ambition and makes it possible to move forward on a daily basis
The purpose can, therefore, be a decision-making tool, a lever for innovation, cohesion and motivation. This is why it must be authentic and reflect the real reasons why the entrepreneur initiates this project, but also that it must also be operational for everyday use.
That’s what I focused on bringing together vision, mission and beliefs. This is a structure that I began to adapt by trial and error to initiate the project Pack Your Skills and that I made evolved with my accompaniments. I built this model because it allows you to structure your own thinking and express the project by sending three different and complementary messages.
The vision explains the world you aspire to, the mission expresses your way of participating in this vision, and the convictions connect the two by explaining what you believe in.
The #VISION offers the vision of an ideal world
The literature generally proposes two ways to express the vision. Either in the form of an ambition for the project (what do you want to be in 10 years for example) or as a dream for the world. For my part I prefer the second because I find the vision of a utopian world more inspiring.
Indeed I find the first one reductive compared to all that a project represents and especially of why it was initiated (less authentic). Moreover, it seems more operational because it is more concrete when in reality it freezes the project in the long term.
On the other hand, the utopian vision of the world makes it possible to detach yourself from the solution by imagining a situation in which our project would have no reason to exist. We really focus on what we want to bring and the problem we want to solve and not so much on the solution (the solution will come later)
To identify it, I propose to answer the question: “What would a world look like in which my project would no longer exist?”
The #MISSION is more pragmatic and explains the way of doing
If the vision is a situation that we seek to achieve, the mission helps to explain how we want to reach it, for whom, and the impact sought for the beneficiaries. It is consistent with the vision, but it is much more precise.
Many methods are proposed to express the mission. For my part, I discovered the model of Aymeric Marmorat from Enactus (a global non-profit and community of student promoting entrepreneurship) and I find it particularly effective. His method begins by identifying three elements of your project:
- your #PRODUCTS / #PRESTATION: what you do,
- your # BENEFICIARIES / your #CIBLE: for whom you do it (and possibly the perimeter),
- your #IMPACT: the result you want to achieve for the beneficiary.
Once you have identified the three ingredients, here are three suggested sentences to associate them and write your mission:
- Propose / Offer / Provide #PRESTATION, to / for # BENEFICIARIES aiming #IMPACT
- Promote #IMPACT to / for # BENEFICIARIES with / by offering / through / via #PRESTATION
- Assist / Accompany / Allow # BENEFICIARIES to develop / to reach / to succeed # IMPACT with / through / by offering #PRESTATION
Your #BELIEFS help to make the link between your vision and your mission
Your vision presents the great dream that drives you and your mission proposes a way to reach it. In order to make the link between the two and allow everyone to really understand the purpose of the project, I propose to express your beliefs.
I am not talking about beliefs that have been driving you since childhood, nor about certainties, but simply about everything you believe that allows you to build this project. Usually, the first ones come to defend the vision and the following the mission.
Concretely to find them just ask the question “Why?” for each element of your project. I encourage you to repeat this question and dare to question what seems unquestionable to identify the true starting postulate.
To illustrate this structure here is the example of Pack Your Skills
In this model, the authenticity of the purpose is brought by the vision and the beliefs. Detaching ourselves from the solution, make us express our deep ambition. With our beliefs, we present what drives us and defends our project with personal arguments. The mission and the beliefs together bring the operational character of your purpose. The mission provides a concrete description of the project and ensures consistency in terms of the impact sought, the beneficiaries and the types of products or services chosen. The beliefs explain and defend this mission to allow everyone to get it and use it on a daily basis.
The purpose thus becomes an easy reference to mobilize, to take decisions, to judge the coherence and consistency of our actions and to imagine new solutions.
The last essential step in the definition of the purpose will then be its communication. Indeed, it is by sharing it that you will anchor it in the long term, that you will know that people will join you for a good reason and that you will be able to rely on it to make decisions and justify them later.
For that, it will be necessary to free yourself from this model I just which I proposed to you. This model is more a tool for the team itself. It helps you to structure your thinking and to focus on making it exhaustive and not beautiful. But so presented your purpose is relatively heavy to receive. I advise you to extract the substance and the essential message according to the people with whom you are exchanging and the media you are using. Do it with agility, by iterations, verbalize your purpose as often as possible, present it and defend it a maximum of times. This is for me the fastest and most relevant way to see what really suits you and what you need to change.
Be that as it may, always keep in mind these two questions:
“Do I feel aligned with what I say? “
“Will this way of presenting my reason for being really help me on a daily basis? “
PS: I also wrote another article about the values of a team: Values, a key to build a team that works! I invite you to read it because, for me, it is the second essential ingredient when you have a project. Values give consistency to the team, the purpose gives a direction. A team with a strong and shared purpose but without common values is a motivated group, but in which it can be hard to move forward together. A team that shares the same values without having a common purpose is closer to a group of friends than a motivated team to develop a project.
And if you want to exchange, find me on www.instinkto.fr