The Most Powerful and Trendy Business Tool of the Year? Words

Written by

Mike Lear Executive Creative Director, North America |

Mar 01, 2021 · 4-minute read


It’s in these challenging periods when we must be our most resilient and take big swings. And getting all of this right starts with the right words.

When Delta came to us for help with their purpose, it was during a downturn very similar to the one we’re experiencing today. It was 2003, the post-911 era that saw extreme drops in travel. It was in that moment that Delta knew it needed to have a clearly defined direction. Today, the situation is much worse.

So recently, when it came time for the CEO Ed Bastian to provide comment, you could have expected to hear the worst. Instead he emphasized the company’s rock-solid foundation so there would be no question about the direction he wanted his 80,000 employees to move. The words he chose were simple: optimism, hope, and confidence.

These are the words of a leader with a North Star. Mr. Bastian acknowledges how bad things are but provides unwavering direction. Altitude lifts planes, attitude lifts airlines – these aren’t just words in Delta’s purpose story, they’re authentic truths we discovered at the very core of why Delta exists.

Purpose cannot be created in a workshop, or over a few days. It takes time to properly excavate it from all facets of the organization through research and deep interviews with leadership, and frontline employees. Then it takes a good bit of strategic synthesis to figure out what the purpose could mean for the world. Without these essential steps the wording of the purpose will be nothing more than a hollow corporate statement.

Too often we see ‘new’ purpose companies try to do it faster, without the rigor of our process, or the benefit of two decades of experience. And more than once we’ve been called to assess or repair what these companies have assembled.

Key to our methodology is the uncovering of themes that describe how the company behaves at its best. By focusing on those core principles and clearly, eloquently articulating them, we’re able to bring to light the strengths that lie within the company. We’re able to dig out the tensions and find the real substance. It’s why the words we craft resonate not just for the coming months but coming decades.

Samuel Johnson once said, “Words are but the signs of ideas.” So words, while foundational and essential, are only the beginning. Once thoroughly embedded within the organization, at all levels, the actual change begins.

And with the foundation of a clear purpose articulation guiding the way, dark, obstacle-strewn trails into the future become clear paths.

It is this clarity that led Mercedes-Benz to pledge carbon neutrality across its business by 2040. What pushed Bank of Montreal to double their commitment to sustainable finance to the tune of $400B. And what led Delta to commit $1B to become the first carbon neutral airline.

We see the best led companies in the world making big choices. Firm lines in the sand are being drawn. And they’re not doing it for the press, they’re doing it to make real and lasting change.

Look at the difference between Facebook and Apple right now. Tim Cook recently said, with Facebook clearly in mind, “Too many are still asking the question ‘How much can we get away with?’ when they need to be asking ‘What are the consequences?’”

Fundamentally, the best companies on the planet see the value in supporting all stakeholders. This isn’t just brave thinking or a new trend. I would say it’s nothing less than the evolution of society, an arrangement where corporations and organizations do the good that needs to be done. Making up for what government can’t provide. Lifting up our world.

Yes, it’s a lot. Yes, it’s hard. Yes you will have opponents and black-hat-wearers at every step. But it all starts with what we have already. It starts with beautiful, expertly excavated, perfectly articulated, true, powerful words.


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