7 Reasons Founders Need a Compelling Why

I’ve met many ambitious founders who genuinely are a bit cynical about the importance of a compelling purpose, passion, and/or just cause — let’s call it a Compelling Why. I get it. The vast majority of my career was in the worlds of banking, private equity, and hedge funds. These are typically not your most emotionally expressive cultures. In fact, these industries can be downright cold and impersonal at times.

Nevertheless, there are lots of ambitious founders out there who deeply believe:

  • They’ve got a seriously good idea for a product and/or service that the world needs and will continue to need for a “helluva” long time,
  • They know how to both satisfy that need and make a pretty penny doing so, and
  • They’ll be able to attract and retain the quality of talent necessary to not only build a decent business but a decent company — one they can someday sell for a lot of money.

It’s all so simple, right?

Well, not exactly. While founders instinctively focus on the pursuit of profitability and success, these goals don't always align with what today's workforce values.

Research by Deloitte Digital confirms that our newest generations of workers, particularly Generation Z, prioritize work that aligns with their values, supports their mental health, and contributes to a sense of purpose. In other words, they want more than a decent paycheck — they want to do work that:

  • They believe matters,
  • Serves a broader purpose, and
  • Is being done by a company that will continue to matter.

Consequently, as we enter more deeply into what I believe is a New Age of Work, I’m confident that having a Compelling Why is essential for building a great company. These are the seven reasons why I believe this to be true. 

1. Strategic Clarity

A Compelling Why acts as a guiding compass for all strategic decisions, ensuring alignment among the company's activities, Core Agreements (especially your Focus Filters), and objectives (goals). At Ninety, our Compelling Why is to "help companies become extraordinarily productive, humane, and resilient." This clarity prevents Vision drift, determines efficient resource allocation, and guides the company through complex and uncertain environments.

For instance, when prioritizing features for Ninety’s product road map, we refer to our Compelling Why by asking, "Will this feature help our customers become more productive, humane, and resilient?" If the answer is yes, we know it's aligned with our purpose and is worth investing in. By consistently referencing your Compelling Why, you will ensure that you stay true to your Vision as your organization scales.

2. Employee Engagement and Retention

Organizations with a Compelling Why are more likely to attract and retain employees who are not only competent but also share their values and goals. This alignment increases engagement because team members feel they’re contributing to something meaningful beyond mere financial gains.

At Ninety, we attract and retain team members passionate about our mission by prioritizing thorough hiring and onboarding processes to ensure we have the right person in the right seat. Our approach includes using tools and assessments such as the Kolbe A Index, TypeCoach (a tool leveraging Myers-Briggs personality types), and the PRINT® Survey (an Enneagram built for the modern workplace). These tools provide insights into problem-solving preferences, communication styles, and unconscious motivators that allow us to get a more holistic view of current and future team members.

By fostering a culture that consistently reinforces our Compelling Why, we create an environment where team members feel valued and are committed to our shared purpose. This alignment boosts engagement, productivity, and retention.

3. Brand Differentiation and Customer Loyalty

A Compelling Why differentiates a company from its competitors by establishing a deeper connection with its Ideal Customers. Take Salesforce, a prominent player in the technology sector. Its commitment to empowering organizations while prioritizing social responsibility resonates with businesses that value making a positive impact. The company's 1-1-1 model demonstrates its dedication to its values.

By consistently communicating and demonstrating your commitment to your Compelling Why, your business will attract customers who share your Vision, become brand advocates, and build lasting relationships with you.

4. Innovation and Long-Term Success

A Compelling Why generates a level of passion that encourages curiosity, innovation, and adaptability — crucial traits for long-term success in our ever-changing, technology-enabled business landscape. Companies driven by a unified sense of purpose are more likely to push the boundaries of what's possible, constantly improving and evolving their products/services.

At Ninety, our commitment to a shared purpose unites our team members, encourages creative thinking, and empowers us to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace. We value each and every one of the diverse personalities — thinkers, feelers, doers, and guardians — within our team.

Our agreements-based culture of trust and accountability helps our team develop innovative solutions that enable our clients to streamline operations, gain clarity, and build thriving organizations. This extends to our personalized coaching and unparalleled support, as we equip clients with the concepts, tools, and disciplines needed to overcome challenges, achieve success, and become industry leaders.

5. Resilience in Adversity

A strong, purpose-driven culture is suited to buffer challenging times. When companies face economic downturns or crises, a Compelling Why helps maintain morale and focus, creating a collective bond to weather the storm. During difficult periods, team members connected to a shared purpose are more likely to remain committed, motivated, and willing to go the extra mile to get smart stuff done (we call this GSSD). They understand the significance of their contributions and are driven to help the company overcome obstacles.

For example, in 2020, Allbirds, a sustainable footwear and apparel company, faced challenges that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. Guided by its mission to prioritize sustainability and eco-friendly materials, Allbirds quickly adapted by shifting focus to e-commerce and introducing new product lines, demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity.

6. Attracting Investment

At Ninety, we’ve found many of the prospective investors we’ve met with over the years — a list that includes some of the most prestigious names in the venture capital world — are increasingly looking for companies with a Compelling Why. They recognize its role in attracting and retaining exceptional talent — the type of talent they know is essential for building enduring market leaders.

Investors understand that a strong sense of purpose is not only a feel-good factor but also a critical component in creating a sustainable competitive advantage. Companies with a Compelling Why are more likely to foster innovation, adapt to market changes, and build loyal customer bases, leading to long-term success and higher returns on investment.

7. Social Impact and Corporate Responsibility

Companies with a Compelling Why are better positioned to make a positive impact on society. This ethical stance is increasingly important to a company's Ideal Stakeholders — including customers, team members, and communities — and can lead to a more favorable regulatory and public relations environment.

As consumers become more conscious of the impact their choices have on the world, they are more likely to support and remain loyal to companies that demonstrate a genuine commitment to making a difference. For instance, a company dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint may attract environmentally conscious customers and employees who are passionate about sustainability. These individuals are more likely to champion the company's initiatives, leading to innovative solutions that further reduce environmental impact.

In today's socially conscious world, consumers are more likely to support companies that actively address social issues. By staying true to its Compelling Why and attracting Ideal Stakeholders who share its values, a company can foster a growing customer base that appreciates its commitment to making a difference. This alignment of purpose and Ideal Stakeholder values contributes to the company's long-term success while positively impacting the communities it serves.

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An explicit, coherent, and resonant Compelling Why is at the heart of every company that wants to excel. It not only provides internal alignment and motivation but also attracts and retains the kinds of Ideal Stakeholders essential for ambitious founders who want to build great companies in this New Age of Work.

But that’s what I think. What do you think?

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