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Businesses fail the moment they stop asking why

  • Written by Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer at Zoho

Many business owners don’t realise it, but in business it doesn’t just matter what you do, it matters why you do it. To run a successful company - one better placed to mitigate challenges, grow post-pandemic and build deep and meaningful connections with your customers and employees - it's important to never lose sight of your ‘why’. Your cause, your culture, and your why is what inspires your staff, builds bonds, and incentivises loyalty with customers or stakeholders. 

According to research from Accenture, Australian consumers are more mindful and conscientious than ever, engaging with businesses aligned to their interests and making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases as a result of the pandemic. So why is purpose over profit more important for businesses than ever before and how can organisations succeed in defining, articulating and prioritising your why? 

Start with your why

Cause and culture, not capital growth, inspires loyalty and helps businesses in saturated industries stand out from the crowd. Culture is not only reflected by directors and managers but also drives employee engagement and satisfaction. With Australia currently facing the second-worst talent shortage in the developed world according to the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), having a great company culture and fundamental guiding principles is what helps attract and retain quality hires and sets your business apart from the competition. 

To run a successful organisation, it’s important not to get too pigeonholed on your core business, as this is not what inspires people. Inspired employees make for stronger companies and economies. At Zoho, we embrace an expansive definition of corporate capital that extends far beyond our balance sheets and asset ledgers. Our true capital includes the shared culture, skills, and dedication of the people who make up our organisation. 

Define your purpose, articulate your why

Ensure your purpose is prevalent in your company culture, customer relations, and when making big decisions. This will ensure you’re not only on brand but your purpose, which is what attracts employees and customers, is easily defined. 

Australian start-up ‘Who Gives A Crap’ is one brand that does this extremely well. Its core product is toilet paper, yet its purpose is to reduce waste by offering a more sustainable and environmentally friendly product, while also helping developing countries have access to sanitation by building toilets. Who Gives A Crap uses this throughout all of its communications, clearly and easily defining its purpose and articulating its why, helping it appeal to conscientious contemporary consumers who want alignment with brands. 

Similar to Who Gives A Crap, the more you inspire your customers and employees the better business results you drive, meaning more support for your business purpose. Our motto at Zoho is that if our users thrive, so will we. If they grow, we will too. It’s this attitude that drives company culture and helps attract and retain customers. 

Understand the human brain

People don’t only buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Understanding your customers’ motivations and employees’ purpose enables businesses to build the internal and external bonds that separate good and great businesses. 

Generation Y and Z make up nearly two-thirds of the world’s population so their influence and spending power is notable. Unlike previous generations, Gen Y and Z demand greater diversity and inclusion from brands and place greater importance on a business purpose. In fact, a survey by Accenture shows that 70% of millennials would choose inclusive and diverse brands over those that aren’t. For businesses to appeal to this large audience, you need to consider the changing nature of diversity and inclusion and body positivity as consumer expectations continue to change. 

According to a recent report, almost half (48%) of Australians – 71% of Gen Z and 52% of Millennials – would not work for a business that did not take action to address climate change. With Australia going through a talent shortage, aligning closely and meaningfully with the needs and motivations of employees is not a nice to have but a must. If your business, for example, actively supports climate change and is doing what it can to combat this issue, the more your business communicates this and imbeds it into all aspects of your business, the better chance you’ll have of attracting and retaining the right employees - ones who believe, value and support your businesses vision and mission. 

In challenging times, it’s easy to focus on the day-to-day function of your business and your role within it. Today, however, it’s essential to never lose sight of your guiding principles and the reason you do what you do. In highly-competitive sectors, in which it's difficult to differentiate yourself on price or product, your ‘why’ might be the biggest USP (unique selling point) your business has. 

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