Purposeful mission, profitable opportunities

November 23, 2018

The fundamental role of a leader is to set a firm direction for the team to follow. As a business leader, you are expected to steer your ship toward opportunities that can provide many years of sustained, profitable growth.

Do you often feel that your business has lost its way? Has it consistently missed opportunities that have been captured by others?

Unless you know in which direction you want to go, virtually any course of action will get you lost. Whether you define it as a mission, a vision, or a goal, the direction you set for your team is always crucial to your success.

These days most companies have prepared a written mission and vision statement. Unfortunately, these statements tend to be corporate versions of the Ten Commandments, ie we are innovative, ethical, a meritocracy, customer-centric, etc.

Although this type of mission and vision statement may serve as an excellent guide to appropriate corporate and employee behavior, it rarely helps to set us on a firm course to harvesting the best opportunities.

financial goals can make you poorer

As the alternative to using their mission statement, most leaders set financial goals. In the past five years, I have interviewed the managing directors of several hundred Indian companies of all sizes in dozens of sectors. Over 99 percent have described their missions to me in financial terms, such as: “We would like to double sales in the next three years.”

In general, these leaders have consistently failed to meet these lofty goals. Why?

Financial goals can be useful at a tactical level, for example, setting targets for individual salespeople. However, at a strategic level, they are ineffective. Why? Because financial goals do not, in any way, help the leader or his team to find, evaluate and choose the opportunities that can provide sustained, profitable growth.

Let us use an analogy. According to an old saying, “you can never be too rich or too thin.” We all would like to have $1 billion and a 32-inch waistline. Imagine that you personally have a more modest goal of losing 5 kilos. Does having this goal help in any way to lose the weight? Does the desire to be rich in any way make you rich? Of course not.

Financial goals can even be counterproductive. They motivate companies to maximize short-term gain at the expense of long-term opportunities. It is common for companies to miss new opportunities because they are focused on extracting profit from their investments in old opportunities until it was too late.

For example, even though Kodak invented digital camera technology, it preferred to harvest the investment in its legacy film business, leading to its ultimate demise. Rather than investing in new opportunities provided by expanding bandwidth, Blackberry preferred to prolong the lifecycle of its 2G phones, until it was wiped out by Apple and its 3G smartphone.

create the future, examine the present and past

Changes in our environment constantly create new opportunities, some of which can lead to tremendous growth and profits. Some people try to predict change, and the opportunities that will come from it. Unfortunately, betting on foresight is usually no better than playing roulette. Few of us can accurately see the future.

Many people fear change, and try to avoid it. But that is likely to eventually result in a ‘Kodak Moment’, ie irrelevance and bankruptcy. Others claim that they can manage change. I do not believe you can manage change any better than you can manage the monsoon. But you can benefit from the opportunities created by change, if you can see them and properly evaluate them.

Fortunately, there is no need to gamble on predicting the future. That is because valuable opportunities always exist in the present. Vision is not about predicting the future; it is about seeing the present clearly. By examining our current environment, we can see opportunities. By understanding the patterns of the past, we can better understand how to evaluate and choose the best opportunities.

To perform this task, my consultancy OpenMind conducts an opportunity audit, which examines your opportunity environment. This environment has four segments—mission, model, market and domain.

Understanding your mission is the most crucial part of this exercise. That is because regardless of how many opportunities exist in your environment, if the leader defines his or her mission incorrectly, the company will inevitably choose to pursue the wrong ones.

how to define your mission for opportunity

What is the most important question in the world? It is a question we all ask ourselves, sometimes several times each day, even though we do not often realize it.

The question is: What’s in it for me? (WIIFM)

It is a fact that we are all selfish. In determining our mission, we must first account for our own needs, otherwise, we will not be motivated to succeed. Regrettably, desire alone will not give us financial success. Although many people believe in the Law of Attraction, few will choose to love you just because you desire their affections, and no one will buy from you simply because you want higher profits.

Selfish goals such as financial enrichment are not enough to define your company’s mission. That is because business opportunities are not a one-way street. It is not just about you.

Opportunities are the bridge between aspiration and realization. An opportunity bridge always runs in two directions, for both the buyer and seller. Business opportunities are always a two-way value exchange. Your business provides the customer with value and relevance, and in return, the customer gives you money or something you can monetize, such as data.

your mission is always a service

Because business opportunity is always a two-way value exchange, you must answer the question: What’s in it for me? for your customer as well as yourself. WIIFM must go both ways.

To be opportunity-minded, think service, not profits. Business opportunities are always a service to others. The mission of your business should ideally be defined in terms of how and why it provides this service to others. Even if you sell a physical product, the customer is actually paying for the service it provides.

For example, Google’s mission is: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Amazon’s mission is: “to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.” These mission statements clearly convey the type of service provided to customers, while being broad enough to unlock huge areas of opportunity.

Service is a fine balance, as both sides of the opportunity exchange should ideally be satisfied. Business opportunity is very much a two-way street. Ideally, each side of the value equation should feel that they are getting the better deal.

maintain your vision of the present

Maintaining an accurate vision of the present through auditing of your environment is also critical to ensuring relevance. There is little point in being solely dedicated to servicing the needs of horses if the market has moved on to automobiles. Based on changes in the other three zones of your opportunity environment—model, market, and domain—your mission should constantly evolve to serve larger and more relevant needs.

A good example is Apple. Its mission began as “make computers simple so everyone could use them.” As it lost the battle in that market, its mission evolved to “make technology simple so everyone can use it,” allowing it to explore opportunities that led to several hugely relevant new businesses.