May 9

by Richard McMullan

"IT" seems to have become a somewhat cliched subject these days, with many having little real understanding of what it is.    (For the avoidance of doubt, the “IT” I’m referring to is not Information Technology).

Yet "IT" is fundamental to your business’s success.


Nearly every business has one, but some have never articulated "IT". Or have let "IT" slip from the corporate memory.

With "IT" front and centre, it’s easier to attract the right sort of customers and employees, charge higher prices, make more profit. 

Research from the HBR Analysis Unit indicated that companies driven by "IT" have better results, for example: 89% greater employee satisfaction and 85% better customer advocacy.

Jim Stengel, ex-CMO of Proctor and Gamble, in his book Grow, calculated that companies who focused on "IT" outperformed their peers in the Standard & Poor 500 by four times.

So, what is "IT"?

Campbell and Tawadey called "IT" the Company Purpose in their 1990 book “Mission and Business Philosophy”, as did Collins and Porras in their 2004 classic “Built to Last”.

I don’t recall Drucker ever naming it as such, but he did describe "IT" as “why you do what you, not the means by which you do it”.

And more recently Simon Sinek popularised it in his top-selling book “Start With Why”, describing it thus:

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. If a company does not have a clear sense of WHY then it is impossible for the outside world to perceive anything more than WHAT the company does. And when that happens, manipulations that rely on pushing price, features, service or quality become the primary currency of differentiation”.

I call "IT" your business’s Organising Thought. I use this as I’ve found that purpose can be (mis-) interpreted in many ways, and talking about “your why” just seems to confuse people.

Some of my favourite organising thought examples are:

  • Satisfying curiosity (The Discovery Channel)
  • Forever better (Miele)
  • Explore space for the betterment of mankind (NASA)
  • To boldly go where no man has gone before (USS Enterprise)
  • Leave the jersey in a better place (the All Blacks)

How do you define your organising thought?

Your organising thought already exists. It may be deeply buried in the history of time.


So You just need to rediscover it. Or perhaps a new leadership team wants to change the direction of the company and redefine it.

Firstly, and most importantly for me, it isn’t about the money. Some owners I’ve met say things like: “Making Billy wealthy”. But that’s (usually) superficial. There’s always a deeper reason. Something more powerful.

And anyway, few people want to work for you to make you more money, or, as Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, described it: “Our people don’t want to look back and say they built Dove market share by 4.5%, they want to say they helped millions of women improve their self-esteem.”

Secondly, when you’re crafting your statement make sure it:

  • Is inspiring for you and the team.
  • Describes the reason the business exists (not what you do).
  • Is enduring – describe a journey that you’re making without any end in sight (although you should set waypoints to aim for, so you know you’re making progress).
  • Is easily understood by all.

It may be of no comfort to you, but you won’t be alone if you struggle with this.

I’ve helped more than 20 companies in the last few years do this as part of developing a growth strategy.

The quickest I’ve ever helped a client articulate it was in 3 hours.

I’ve also spent days, over a period of months, with clients and their senior teams defining and refining it. That’s an indication how important it is to the success of the business.

Funnily enough, when you get it right, people simply go “Yup, that’s us. So obvious now. Did it really take us that long to write those 8 words?”

How does "IT" get used in the business?

Your organising thought is at the core of what you do. It is your foundation for success.

It is a major determinant of your vision for the business, and your strategy for achieving that vision.

Your brand and market positioning should flow from it. (It will be obvious to your customers if you try to bolt it onto your current collateral, and that inconsistency will reduce their likelihood to purchase).

It helps define the type of people you want in your business, and the customers you work with.

It acts as a reference point for people to help them stay on track.

It helps your people make better decisions – “does what I’m about to do fit with our organising thought?”

For those of you who have read my leadership blogs, you’ll already know that it is essential for an employee’s relatedness to a business: one of the key elements in your team being self-motivated to deliver.

Does "IT" really make a difference?

Which of these two companies would you prefer to work for?

“Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”


“Think different. Make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

I’ve posed this question to hundreds of people during workshops for four years now and the majoriy choose the second one.

Mainly because it is more inspiring, more enduring, less restrictive and less controlling.

The first company is Apple under Tim Cook, the second company is Apple under Steve Jobs.

The second one has a clear organising thought and it is what inspired the products and services listed in the first one.

When I started sharing this in 2015, I told clients I thought it was the beginning of the end for Apple’s dominance, and that we wouldn’t see many new blockbuster, industry changing products from them in the future. You (and time) can be the judge of the accuracy of my forecasting….

Oh, and did I mention Jim Stengel’s analysis that those with a strong ideal at their core deliver four times higher total shareholder returns than those that didn’t.

Worth saying again: Four…Times…Higher…Total…Shareholder…Returns

PS: The next newsletter will be about another of the building blocks that form the North Star you need to successfully grow and scale your business.

PPS: And finally, just in case you're curious, I help business owners, MDs and CEOs get no-nonsense, reliable answers to their most pressing questions. Email if you'd like to find out more about how I do that.  Or click on the big green button below to book a chat with me.

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