It just occurred to me that we’ve spent quite bit of ink (or whatever the Web equivalent is — pixels?) on this blog talking about TRUE North, so it’s probably about time we took a look at what it is, why it’s important, and how to define it for yourself.
TRUE North is, simply put, core purpose. It’s the ultimate goal for your business, the “why” behind every single “what” that you and your team do every single day.
When many leaders are just getting started (think Blinds.com CEO Jay Steinfeld working out of the trunk of his car ), the question “what’s your purpose?” is usually a pretty easy one to answer. The life of a starter-upper is not an easy one, and those who survive the ups and down are usually driven by a pretty solid purpose — a clear vision of his or her TRUE North.
Ironically enough, it’s when an organization becomes successful that it’s most likely to drift off course in its journey towards the founder’s TRUE North. You’ve got more and more people coming on to the team. You might have additional investors or shareholders to answer to. You probably have marketing and PR people in your ear talking about “competitive advantage” and “brand differentiators.” In this flurry of activity, it’s easy for purpose to get lost.
For an organization to survive this phase with its purpose intact, it takes a leader with a strong sense of his or her TRUE North — plus an enduring unwillingness to compromise.
And it’s that commitment to TRUE North that creates a team of employees who would never consider leaving — even on their worst days. It’s that commitment that creates a backlog of job applicants even in the best of economic times. That commitment is also the kind of thing that lands you on FORTUNE‘s Most Admired Companies list.
Finding and following TRUE North is also at the heart (pun intended) of the work that I do with leaders and organizations.
When I work with an executive, the first thing we do is sit down and determine what his or her TRUE North is. That process usually starts with questions like
- Why did you start this company (or take this job)?
- What one thing do you want every employee in this company to know/believe/remember?
- What keeps you going on your toughest days?
- When you interview potential employees, what’s the #1 trait you look for?
- When you think about the person who will succeed you in your role, what beliefs or values would be at the top of your wish list?
Once we get clear on the answers to those questions, the vision of TRUE North begins to crystallize. Then it’s just a matter of communicating that vision to the team and inspiring them to live it every single day.