EY: The word uncertain is often used today when describing the business world. Why do you think this is? What, if anything, is uncertain about today’s working world? And how is it different then say 20 years ago.
Sinek: Some companies get lazy when the economy is good. They falsely believe that times are certain. That’s like saying because we have calm waters we’ll never have a storm. We don’t prepare our crews for rough waters, and then when the rough waters hit we talk about these uncertain times.
Purpose is important in all times because all times are uncertain. That said, people seem to be feeling more pressure to articulate purpose now because the uncertainty seems to be right in their face. Companies with a clear sense of purpose are as confident in good times as they are in the hard times because they know where they are going. The company with a sense of purpose is confident when they go slowly in the right direction, versus the company with no purpose that’s excited because they are rushing off in the wrong direction or panic because there’s a blockage. Purpose provides confidence in any situation. This is my favorite thing about purpose; that in “these uncertain times” all the purpose-driven companies are just fine.
EY: Can organizations create more certainty simply by finding their purpose?
Sinek: Of course. It’s called direction. Companies need to have vision. It is literally the definition of the word vision; it means seeing. Our company’s vision is to be the best. That’s not seeing. Seeing is about describing a future state that does not yet exist in the world and working to use the company and all it does to help advance that vision of the world. Vision is something, when properly articulated, allows others to see and believe in it – customers, employees, anyone.
EY: What difference have you seen in organizations that have chosen to be purpose-led. Not necessarily the innovators and early adopters, but more so the early to late majority. Or are we there yet?
Sinek: I’m not sure we’ve reached the tipping point yet. I don’t think we have the number, and of those who say it, there is a disconnect between how many of them actually believe it versus it simply being a marketing exercise.
I think to reach the tipping point we need more early adopters. And I think partially it’s a generational thing. I think for the most part baby boomers still run a lot of large companies. I think not until Generation X and Generation Y (older millennials) really start taking over companies will we start to see shift, and that’s starting.
EY: Some companies will argue that in times of uncertainty their ability to maintain their commitment to purpose is a challenge. How can organizations maintain their commitment to purpose regardless of what’s going on?
Sinek: What if you say to your spouse, “I’m really stressed out so I don’t know how you can expect me to be loyal to this marriage.” It’s the same thing. I actually spoke to a large organization once where somebody said: “All of this leadership stuff is really nice, but you have to understand we’re at war and I don’t have time for this.” If you’re telling me you don’t have time for this stuff now, my question is: what were you doing during the times that didn’t feel like war?
There’s no right or wrong time. Just start. Better now than later and better late than never.