Part 1: Pondering your Purpose

This is part one of a three-part series (the third part is available in “Changes to rTraction Leadership”).

I recently wrote about our change back to using the rTraction brand (both personal and corporate), and the outcomes of the process that led to that decision. What I did not write about, at the the time, is how damned hard it was to come to those conclusions.

One of the hardest questions that you can ever have to answer as a business owner is “why?” It sounds like it should be easy enough. We have gone to endless seminars on positioning and pitching so we can answer “what do you do” without much hesitation… but why we do it is another matter.

In some cases we lose the “why” as we pivot and turn through our business evolution. As entities, we get very much caught up in the how or the what of our business without always reflecting on why we do it.

I believe this is a particularly dangerous area for service companies, because the “how” and “what” can be very much influenced by the type of clients we attract, retain and ultimately get referrals from (which drives the vast majority of our business development).

Here is a practical example of what I’m referring to:  If a client asks you if you can do an activity that your client asks you to do, and your team can theoretically do it even though it’s not a core competency, do you say “Yes!” and figure it out, or do you answer “No” and turn down the revenue stream? In the latter scenario, there’s an additional danger (perceived or real) that you could lose the client’s entire business if they find another business that offers a solution to the new request and they can deliver on the services you already provide, as well.

We started a process back in March with a company called Doholis-Lambert that pulled us through the knot-hole of examining our “why”. I will admit that I thought I was participating with an open mind and possibilities-oriented view… but I will also admit that I was blocked by certain preconceived notions of what my company is, was and should be, based purely on the past of what and how we did things, not the “who” or “why” of our company.

It took a 6-month period of reflection to be able to clearly articulate our core purpose and values, working together as a team, and largely roadblocked on faster progress by my own inability to let go. Areas where we had success in the past were warm, comfy blankets, and it seemed foolhardy to abandon previous strategies that had generated revenue in exchange for enhanced clarity.

The epiphany came suddenly after an exercise one-on-one with Ted Doholis (one of the partners at Doholis-Lambert and an excellent facilitator). The exercise was about energy and focus. As a business owner, I have a unique ability to channel my energy into whatever activity I would like to, and for me that focused on the things that I care about deeply.

Here’s a video that was recorded mid-way through this process (thanks Michael for editing and uploading!). I can see my own inability to clearly articulate our service offering through the messaging (although the editor did a good job covering this up!). You can hear how I try to keep feet in both worlds, where we have had success in the past and trying to look forward to how we can help organizations in the future.

The decision to let go of other tactics, strategies, verticals, partnerships and existing marketing was a painful one. Ultimately, I realized the key to our success was to focus on where I wanted our collective energy to go, and that resulted in our focus on improving community outcomes and increasing organizations’ capacity to provide positive impact.

We know this service is needed as technology continues to disrupt and challenge industries, and our friends in nonprofits, charities, and social innovation businesses are no different. We can increase our ability to have positive impact by helping these organizations to improve their storytelling, marketing, and technology capacity. Is it a risk to pivot the business in that direction? Yes. Is it something worth pursuing with all of our available energy, both personally and corporately? Absolutely.

I was actually able to get out of the way of our team, putting my personal fears and ego aside. Working together, we crafted a clearly articulated purpose, vision, and value statement, which we are excited about and continue to evolve our business model around. It’s incredibly important to note that my team was actually more ready to make the change and receptive to the future possibilities than I was, which is a great reminder to listen to your team.

I had the video re-shot after our process was complete, and the surety with which I speak of our purpose and focus is far more clear. It’s important to note that I did not prepare remarks for either video; both were done off the top of my head. In the second video, I found it so much easier to articulate our value.

I look forward to producing a final video to share our message. It’s fun to review how I sound before and after clarity (as a side note watching yourself on video can give you great cues for yourself, like, “keep your hands down Billson!”).

I’m incredibly grateful to my team, Ted, family, and all those that supported us through this process. I’m especially grateful for the community that has supported and sustained our business over the years, and I’m excited for what’s next.

In order to make our vision a reality, we had to change a few things. The most notable are the staff changes in Part 3, but critical for me was a change in understanding my own role. Stay tuned for Part 2, working title “How to not suck at being a leader” (I suspect my marketing team will encourage me to change the name by that time).

Finding someone to help you discover your purpose is helpful - it can sometimes take an outside facilitator to help you uncover it. Finding the right fit for you and your team is key. We realized that even though rTraction helps our clients to better understand their purpose, we are unable to do the operation effectively on ourselves. I’ve worked with the following organizations in London, each with their own lenses and approaches. At rTraction we generally facilitate this discussion through a marketing or technology project - other businesses/coaches have their unique styles - find out who fits with you!

Horizon Leadership
Mischievous Cat Productions
Moss Consulting
Pillar Impact Consulting
And, of course, rTraction

David Billson