I read a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review – and it emphasizes the vital importance of understanding the purpose of your business.

John Mackey, cofounder and co-CEO of Whole Foods (a high-end organic grocery store), sat down with the Harvard Business Review to speak about the necessity of setting a business apart by defining its unique value. The article is called “What is it that only I can do?” and its worth a read – despite its 7 pages.

In a nutshell, Mackey has 3 key points concerning Business Purpose that are worth considering.

1. Determining the purpose of your business is vital to its success.

When Mackey was asked: If you’re talking to somebody who is starting a company or trying to grow one, do you have any pearls of wisdom?” his answer? Determine the purpose of your business. He specifically mentions that the purpose shouldn’t be “trying to maximize profits as a very good long-term strategy for a business. It doesn’t inspire the people who work for you. It doesn’t lead to that higher creativity.”

2. A business purpose needs to evolve.

To quote Mackey :”The interesting thing about our purpose is that it has continued to evolve. As a company grows, its purpose grows with it.”

Mackey uses an example from Whole Foods where they took their purpose – of being good citizens in the communities where they do business – and letting it evolve to also being good citizens in the developing nations they trade with. The willingness to expand their business purpose resulted in the creation of a foundation that now does microlending to small businesses in 23 countries.


3. A business purpose doesn’t need to last forever.

I found this statement to be freeing. Isn’t it wonderful to think that it isn’t necessary to draft a business purpose in stone? Sometimes, for me at least, there is too much pressure in trying to articulate all of my ideas in one statement. Mackey not only agrees, but asserts that the willingness of Whole Foods’ executives to allow their business purpose to develop and evolve overtime has been a key factor to their success.

Knowing why your business exists will bleed into every area of your enterprise. A clear sense of purpose will most certainly affect the tone of your marketing and communication, but it will also factor into your financial planning, your human resource policies, and your daily processes. Perhaps most importantly it will govern your client experience at all points in the sales cycle – and properly executed can measurably contribute to referral and recurrent business.

It seems to be working for Whole Foods…