Purpose-driven or Founder-driven?

Purpose-driven organizations are often founded by passionate, purposeful individuals who believe strongly in their particular cause. But once an organization gets going, that’s where things can get tricky; moving from individual passion to concerted group effort can either strengthen or weaken the overall sense of purpose. Designing products, services and programs; making hires; developing policies; choosing investors—all of these are opportunities to strengthen an organization for the long haul. All too often, purpose-driven founders overlook the effect these actions can have on their organization’s long-term success.

You’ve probably heard some version of the story: in the beginning, the founder is a one-person show. Deftly swapping hats, they jump from one role to another, bringing their inner sense of purpose to every job without hesitation. However, they’re very much stuck in the moment: long-term planning is tough to get to, especially with immediately pressing matters to attend to. It’s hard to anticipate growth…and founders who “make it” often feel as if growth has snuck up on them. With growth comes the need for more staff, more procedures, more marketing, more everything—and the founder can no longer do everything by themselves.

At first glance, the solution might seem simple: just hire new people. However, for the purpose-driven organization, the most important component can be the hardest to sustain. When our founder wore all the hats, a purpose-first approach came naturally; each decision and action was undertaken in the best interest of the cause. When the time came to delegate, a purpose-driven founder might naturally expect each new hire to bring the same sense of purpose to each activity…and operations might run smoothly for a while. But before long, the organization may begin to feel like it’s missing something—that je ne sais quoi which gave it its unique identity and effectiveness. Employees may no longer feel inspired by what was once the driving force of the organization, transactions may begin to feel rote and impersonal, customers may begin to feel unrecognized and alienated, and the overall impact of the original purpose can fade. And one day, our founder might look around and feel like they barely recognize the company they worked so hard to create.

What is the meaning of this?

It’s easy for a founder to say, “I need this task done and I’ll just hire someone to do it,” without considering that the way he or she has done things to that point is fueled by their unique perspective and colors the overall personality of their operation. Each time a purpose-driven founder delegates a task, develops a standard operating procedure or otherwise redistributes their direct hold on the operations of their organization, they must make sure the new process or employee suits their mission. New employees must be educated, empowered and motivated to approach their given tasks from a purpose-first perspective. This is as true for writing automated email responses as it is for training customer service reps. Ensuring that their organization stays in tune with its original sense of purpose, even as it grows, can be one of a purpose-driven entrepreneur’s obstacles. Keep this in mind, fellow do-gooders, as your vision becomes more and more a reality.

John Natoli and the Do Good Design Co. team