By Dan Coughlin

Raison d’etre.

I just love that phrase. It means, “reason for existence.” If you want to maintain the enthusiasm and make the effective decisions necessary to accelerate through this economic crisis, it is critical to take the time necessary to clarify the purpose of your career, the purpose of your work group, and the purpose of your organization. Being excited all day won’t help you find a purpose in your work. Knowing the reason why you, your group, and your organization do what you do will generate a steady flow of passion even in the worst of times as long as you really believe in the purpose of that work. If not, then find the work that has the purpose you want.

My next book, The Management 500, is about management lessons from the history of auto racing. As I peeled back the layers of the auto racing onion, I found a heart. A great big pulsating heart. Actually I found a lot of hearts. The secret to the success of NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula 1 racing is passion. Drivers, engineers, mechanics, crew chiefs, crew members, and fans alike derive incredible passion from a simple purpose: a desire to win the race.

One of my favorite pieces in my research was finding an original copy of Enzo Ferrari’s  1964 autobiography. One sentence stands out above all the others. He wrote,

“Fate is to a good extent in our own hands if we only know clearly what we want
and are steadfast in our purpose.”

Carl Edwards was named the 2008 Driver of the Year. How did he do it? He finished in 2nd place in both the season-long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AND the season-long NASCAR Nationwide Series. This means that from February through November of 2008, Carl Edwards competed successfully over the course of 36 races in two different leagues. It would be like a professional basketball team coming in second in the NBA and second in the top Spanish League in the same season. And where does his passion come from? He has an extraordinary desire to win races.

Dan Harbaugh is president of Ronald McDonald House Charities in St. Louis. Dan Harbaugh is one of the most consistently passionate people I’ve ever met. I’ve known Dan for ten years and have seen him present to hundreds of people, have discussions in small groups, and attend seminars as a student in the very best of economic times and the very worst. In every situation he brings an extraordinary degree of passion. Where does this passion come from and how can he possibly sustain it so consistently? The answer lies in his purpose. He absolutely believes in the purpose of RMHC, which is primarily to provide a home away from home for the families of very sick children. With that purpose in mind, he continues to march forward with enthusiasm.

Small Businesses
Elaine Floyd is a small business owner with two busy teenagers and a very busy husband. Elaine Floyd is one of the most passionate people I’ve met in the past fifteen years. She is the president of EFG, Inc., which helps clients craft their messages into really powerful professionally published books. And where does Elaine draw her passion from? She finds enormous excitement and satisfaction in helping other people get their message out by intersecting cutting-edge computer technology with the creative flair of high-end book publishing.

Matt Miller is a grade school principal. Matt Miller brings more passion to his work than almost anyone I know. I’ve seen him get four hundred kids to scream and yell about reading books and comprehending what they know. I’ve seen him get students to cheer for each other for being kind to one another. I’ve seen him wander into classrooms, accept trays in the cafeteria, and pat kids on the back. I’ve seen him snap two fingers and get hundreds of loud kids to become instantly quiet. And where does his daily enthusiasm come from? He wants kids to succeed in life, and he understands that it’s the little things that make for long-term, life-long success.

Big Businesses
Roy Spence is Chairman and CEO of GSD&M Idea City, which over the past twenty years has been the advertising agency for BMW, AT&T, Wal-Mart, AARP, Southwest Airlines, the PGA Tour, American Red Cross, and a host of other major organizations. Roy Spence is the most passionate person I’ve ever met, and his purpose is to help organizations make a difference in the world. And he’s very, very good at it. Over the course of three years, I worked as a consultant with a few dozen people at GSD&M Idea City in a wide variety of functions and up and down the org chart. Every time I walked into their building I felt as though I was stepping into the Disney Company back in the 1930s when Walt Disney was actively involved. The creative energy pulsated throughout the building.

In the more than forty meetings I attended there a single common theme came up every time. In every meeting, the common question was, “How will this idea support the purpose of this client’s business?” Everything at GSD&M Idea City revolved around this question. If the idea did not support the client organization’s purpose for existence, then it was rejected. It was this passionate commitment to finding and supporting the client’s purpose that helped lead to extraordinary breakthrough results for many of these organizations.

Roy Spence, and GSD&M Idea City’s chief purposeologist, Haley Rushing, have written an extraordinary new book called, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For. I encourage you to read this book. It is packed with practical advice and real-world examples on how to intersect the idealism of purpose with the pragmatism necessary to generate extraordinary business results.

I believe that as you read it you will find yourself, as I did, thinking more and more about why you do what you do, why your groups do what they do, and why your organization exists. You will also find the key questions to answer on how to convert a business purpose into a driver of better sustainable results. This book is really a masterpiece on making the purpose of an organization the driver of effective decision-making. Through its ideas, suggested tactics, and real-life examples at Southwest Airlines, BMW, the PGA Tour, and many others you will clearly see how a well-defined purpose can impact your operations, research and development, hiring, and marketing, and produce extraordinary sustainable results.

Downtime is a Terrific Time to Prepare for Greatness

If your business has slowed down, don’t waste a minute worrying. Instead use this time to clarify your answers to these three critically important questions:

i.    Why do I do what I do for a living?
ii.    Why does my work group exist?
iii.    What purpose is our organization trying to fulfill?

The first step to building an extraordinary career, team, and organization is to know the reason behind the activities. This clarification will help you and others decide what to do and more importantly what not to do. With a clear purpose, you can sustain a focused effort over the long term and generate extraordinary results.