Ensure you know your purpose in business

Following up from exercise choice carefully, here’s my top 10 steps of  ‘purpose that help in answering the  ‘why are we in business’ question. The outcome of using this model is in having a transparent, engaging and involving work culture.


Identify Business Purpose

1. Articulate a clear sense of purpose:

Revisit ‘why’–  The “why” are we doing this business OR “why” are we going into this business.  This is the question which needs to be identified and answered with clarity. You see how the ‘choice’ you make starts affecting the outcome?

The articulation of purpose brings forth the business mission. The business mission should then be evaluated for the impact it    would have on society. This would come about from the product or services it intends to market and how it affects the consumer. This social aspect of the business’s mission would be the heart and soul of its brand identity & experience. It’s the raison d’être of the brand.

2. Create a workforce committed to your purpose:

Articulating the business purpose does two things:
(A) Provides the framework for the brand experience to be in place.
(B) More importantly, articulating with clarity the business purpose creates employee engagement on the business mission i.e. employees working together for a common goal.

3. Define how the purpose is delivered i.e. ‘how we do things around here’:

People, by nature, like to belong to groups. In order to form such a group it’s necessary to provide employees a clear value system and a common cause. These, usually, are the organisational values that lead to behaviour and become the guiding principles of how business is to be done.There are three critical factors in detailing these values:

  • ‘The understanding of the business unit in what’s the social benefit of the business’
  • ‘The understanding creates certain believes which need to be genuine and strong enough to withstand stress & tension when tested’
  • ‘And they need to be translated into practice’

4.  Manage the intangibles that the business purpose would bring up:

Financial profitability is only one dimension of the value provided by the business unit.    Other factors which add to the value of a business include:

  • Strategic Clarity: A clear strategic direction based on practicing the values articulated i.e. ‘walking the talk’
  • Leadership: A strong leadership at the top in order to champion the brand values and represent the brand identity to the stakeholders (in this case any and every one that interacts with the brand in any function)
  • Employee engagement: In order to have the brand represented and projected correctly
  • Competitive Advantage: Identify and develop a strong competitive advantage based on the brand value and
  • Delivery: Deliver, consistently, on brand value through brand experience

5. Develop a clearly articulated governance policy that would reflect the business purpose:

Ethics, adherence to specific regulations and standards should be clearly articulated and proper process flow and directions provided for employees. Special focus should be kept in the functions of investment management, compliance, competitive differentiation, reputation management and customer intelligence management. Taking preventive care at the start would automatically create a work habit that would ensure very negligible slip-ups in governance.

6. Create your brand’s personality based on its purpose:

In the end, a brand is represented by its employee. Thus, it’s critical that the personality that’s projected be reflective of the business purpose. To this end, critical personality behaviour traits should be identified and documented as ‘must-have” for potential employees.

An organisations’ employees project the brand in order to earn trust from the stakeholders.

Trust comes through managing and delivering, time and again, consistently. Having trust leads to a ‘preferred relationship’ which in turn leads to transactions over and over. In order to generate this trust, the personality projection has to be one that is liked by the stakeholder. It may be the way the employee speaks, looks, mannerisms. Small things, but things that immediately create a “like or dislike” choice in the stakeholders’ mind. ‘Perception, after all, is belief’.

7. Listen with  purpose and involve people:

In gaining trust one has to learn to listen not just hear!

If a brand does not have its finger on the pulse of stakeholders’ opinion it doesn’t have a feel for its brand health. Listening, using the variety of mediums that are available, to hear what the stakeholders are saying and thereby get into a dialogue with them and involving them in the brand’s purpose is very important in order to have continuous growth. The more engaged the people are the more involved they would be.

8. Manage risks that are identified from the business purpose:

It’s strange that ‘risk management’ is still in the purview of the finance departments. But financial risk (though the most common is, actually, step two in mapping overall brand risks). Ideally every quadrant of the brand’s activities should be evaluated and potential risk identified. Then marketing and finance jointly, should approach evaluating both the financial and brand reputation risk.

A part of risk management is to ensure the brand’s reputation stays positive. Business leaders have this responsibility and need to ensure that the brands activities protect its reputation from foreseeable risks. By identifying and managing risk,
preemptively, you can head off financial risks.

9. Leverage social change that fits your business purpose:

Businesses tend to think good corporate responsibility is about managing the footprint of their brand on society. But real progress is achieved when they use their business purpose to achieve genuine social benefit . It can be done in a way which wins trust and leads to genuine social and business benefit.

10. Invest in communications  but make it a dialogue:

There are many stories in almost every business. Bring these stories out. Communicate them to your stakeholders. After all the stories involve people and people are interested in people per se. Stories allow for a dialogue to take place by eliciting reactions. This leads to engagement and an engaged stakeholder is better than a nonchalant one!

Exercise Choice Carefully & Ensure you know your purpose in business, when used together would aid you in having a clear mission and vision statement and in explaining the same to employees & external stakeholders.


I hope you have liked this series on ‘Take a new look at your business’; ‘Exercise choice carefully’; & “Ensure you know your purpose in business’. Do share your comments on the site.

Exercise choice carefully


The act of choosing; selection.

The power, right, or liberty to choose; option.

Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them. 

Every minute of our lives, we are ‘Choosing’ i.e. selecting a course of action that brings about a particular effect. In other words, our process of choosing provides the cause and based on the choice we have an effect that affects us.

In our daily lives we go through this process without even realising it. Where the effect has a low impact or is part of routine we don’t ponder on the choice for long. But when it’s to do with an issue that we feel is important, we do take our time to evaluate all the information we have and then ‘Choose’.

Yet, many a time, as professional managers, there are choices (for our careers, for our work and for our self-development) that we make where do not fully exercise C.H.O.I.C.E.

What’s C.H.O.I.C.E.?

Choice is six simple steps that have been very helpful to me in decision-making. Here’s how I use it:

Clarity   Honesty   Objectively   Intelligently   Commitment   Express

1. Clarity:

  • Understand what the problem, issue or opportunity is clearly. Without clearly understanding the issue we won’t know what information we need to solve it.
  • Be clear on the result that you want i.e. the goal you want to achieve. Without clarity on the end result, we won’t know the destination we want to arrive at.

2. Honesty:

  • Be brutally honest with yourself and your team in identifying the problem or issue.
  • Be equally honest in evaluating if you have the required resources and ability to deliver the chosen course of action to achieve the goal.

3. Objectively:

  • Be rational in planning each step leading to the goal. Identify the skills, expertise and resources needed, who has them, where you can get them from and at what cost.
  • Make the team members understand the problem and the solution recommended and how their individual skills and expertise would help in providing the solution to the problem. This will help in the team understanding their own responsibilities and value. In addition, it will help the team in developing trust for each other by knowing that individually they can’t achieve but pooling in their collective skills and working on each step together will bring them to achieve the end goal.


  • Obtain the necessary information that you need to make an objective choice.
  • Use information to fill in knowledge gaps where applicable i.e. a new market entry for a product—research the consumer segment, know all about the consumer’s need for the product you are going to introduce, understand competitive environment.

5. Commitment:

  • Be committed to the task at hand. Show passion for it and own the project: A team that sees commitment will invariably be motivated to deliver their best as passion (with facts) is a very strong influencer in team dynamics.

6. Express:

  • Communicate always with your team, your superiors, and peers. Express your thoughts and your point of view succinctly and take feedback. This shows your willingness to make the choice based on rational and beneficial facts and empowers your team to support you in the decision-making process.

So the next time you need to make a choice, use these six steps. You may just surprise yourself at how smoothly you’d achieve your goal.

If you found CHOICE helpful then you’d like –’A new look at your business.  

Coming next– ‘What’s your purpose in business’.

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§Be rational in planning each step leading to the goal. Identify the skills, expertise and resources needed, who has them, where you can get them from and at what cost.

§Make the team members understand the problem and the solution recommended and how their individual skills and expertise would help in providing the solution to the problem. This will help in the team understanding their own responsibilities and value. In addition, it will help the team in developing trust for each other by knowing that individually they can’t achieve but pooling in their collective skills and working on each step together will bring them to achieve the end goal.


§Obtain the necessary information that you need to make an objective choice.

§Use information to fill in knowledge gaps where applicable i.e. a new market entry for a product—research the consumer segment, know all about the consumer’s need for the product you are going to introduce, understand competitive environment.


Take a new look at your business

With all the talk of change in business, economic climate, consumer behaviour sometimes it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information coming through.

To ensure success in business, you constantly need to renew your business strategy.

RENEW is a 5 step process that I use to ensure clarity and success in business operations:

Here’s the five steps:

  1. REVIEW: Undertake  a simple review of how the business operations are performing against the plans implemented i.e. are the specific activities initiated bringing the desired results or not.
  2. EXPLORE: For areas of operations that are not delivering the desired results, look at the process and the tactics initiated. Is something missing? Would you do something differently? Explore other solutions for the desired result you need.
  3. NEGOTIATE: In small to medium organisations and in partnerships, often times, there is a conflict in terms of the strategic direction and the necessary action to take. Having reviewed and explored options that may be more effective, you would have to present a possible tactic or solution tactfully i.e. you’d have to negotiate with your senior team in order to ensure their compliance so as to be able to deliver on the new tactic.
  4. EXECUTE: Sometimes, the best laid plans often fail due to bad execution. A strategy is as good as its execution. So when executing a new solution as a tactic or an activity, keep a close eye on the input and reactions and be adept and flexible enough to react and change as you and your team carry out the execution.
  5. WIN: Finally, having done the “renew-al” get ready to win and enjoy the success that comes in. Through out the “Renew” process, its crucial that you keep a positive attitude that communicates “confidence” to your team and your clients/customers. This positivity would rub off during negotiation and execution and finally bring you achievement of your targeted plans.

Coming next–Make the right Choice!

Can Islamic finance be people centric?

Visual courtesy www.123rf.com

Visual courtesy http://www.123rf.com

Islamic finance is part of the Islamic economy. The state of the global Islamic economy report details each of these sectors, the correlation within the sectors and highlights the increasing need for the current silo approach, between the sectors, to be eradicated. The report highlights the challenges that face the growth and development of the Islamic economy primary among which is consumer education.

The Islamic financial services industry is now a $1.6 billion global industry and is stated to be a $2 trillion industry by end 2014. Yet less than a fifth of global Muslims use Islamic financial products!

Quoting from the global Islamic finance report (by PWC)—Islamic banking itself has emerged as a practice catering for the middle and upper middle classes of the societies it operates in. Large consulting firms are advising such banks to increase their market share by effectively competing with their conventional counterparts by exploring how to tap the segments of society being underserved or completely ignored. This is not on the priority list of Islamic banks and financial institutions. Hence, while there is a lot being spent on marketing and advertisement, there is no Islamic bank in the whole world with any significant budget for research and development.”

At ground level there is the issue of understanding among mass. This has led to differing awareness and perception of Islamic finance. A probable reason for this could be the lack of a clearly articulated value proposition of Islamic finance that could aid in the understanding of the benefit Islamic finance has, to the man on the street.

The key lies in the industry willing to be “people centric”. At the end of the day, in any industry, the consumer is the reason one is in business. It’s critical to identify a strong ‘value proposition’ that connects with the consumers at different levels.

Without a well-articulated and robust value proposition there is no strategic platform for a commercial enterprise to have sustainable growth. Without growth there is no future.

So can Islamic finance be people centric?

This may seem easier said than done. But it’s not impossible.

How do we bring this about?

General Mass Awareness!

Improving mass awareness is critical in ensuring that the Islamic finance industry grows through acceptance of is value proposition.

Mass consumers would drive growth for the industry through acceptance of the retail products. But now, the retail market has its own set of complexities. Depending on the geographical market, awareness and comprehension, of Islamic Finance varies from negligible to aware but not convinced and coupled with that comes specific biases based on sociocultural conditioning. There is, unfortunately, not a one-size fit-all strategy for educating the mass. In each end market one will have to adapt according to the needs of the consumer.

However, at an industry and organisational level, it is possible to undertake a financial literacy education campaign, that targets primary school children and upwards. A campaign that focuses on the salient points of investment, savings, individual financial management from the perspective of Islamic finance and, most importantly, the value proposition of Islamic finance.

The content (of this campaign) would be the key in ensuring increasing awareness and comprehension and would need to ensure it:

  • demystifies Islamic finance and clearly puts forth a rational value benefit
  • highlights what is the benefit of key retail products
  • simplifies the investment products and communicates transparently on how the ‘back-end’ works

In terms of delivery of the campaign a multi-media approach, with emphasis on social media use, would be necessary in order to allow the mass to interact with selected industry practitioners and enable:

  1. feedback–which would help measure improvements of the educational campaign–
  2. let the practitioners to know the ‘pulse’ of the mass i.e. what are their financial needs

The benefits for the industry in doing this:

  1. Strategically such a campaign will position the organisations supporting and leading it as the “go-to” source for the consumer. Thus creating a pool of potential customers.
  2. It would enable the Islamic financial institutions to identify what the consumers want in terms of investment and retail products and thus ensure product portfolio profitability.

We need to have the commitment to do this.

Where does this commitment come from?

The industry bodies & organisations need to put a stake in the ground where their long-term development is concerned. Organisations need to evaluate their long-term strategic direction and identify key areas that each could champion.

Based on the identified key areas specific performance collaborations, between the industry organisations and academia, need to be put in place to ensure performance.

The question that needs to be answered at this stage is—‘To be people centric or not to be?

Will this provide it a sustainable growth?

Would global organisations want Islamic financing?

Should the industry develop a strong retail base in order to ensure this sustainability?

Question that require some hard thinking now in order for effective growth to be sustainable for people & organisations.

Education of the masses will assist in this growth and ensure preference for Islamic financial products. 

Islamic Branding: Misnomer or Earnest Opportunity

The term “ISLAMIC BRANDING” stems from the tendency of the marketing and advertising industry’s practice of consumer segmentation based on certain ‘ethnic’ parameters. On the other hand, does the ‘Halal’ stamp signify Islamic branding? The term Halal is recognised as a brand component as well as the platform for a brand’s identity. As a brand component, it communicates adherence to supply and production parameters for example in food - flagging the hygiene factor by re-assuring adherence to the slaughter process. As a platform, the term ‘Halal’ is used to ‘flag’ that the brand is for the Muslim community.

My article on this in the July issue of Islamic Banker Asia. Read it here:




Profit or Relationships?


visual courtesy: www.meetville.com

visual courtesy: http://www.meetville.com

Relationship marketing has been around (in brand marketing) for some time. Technology has aided in enabling huge progress in developing customized brand offers and providing rewarding brand experiences.

Is there a lesson in this for the individual as well as the organisation?

As a marketer who’s a Muslim, I look at Islamic financial services (for consumers) that are offered. And as the agent/sales person/product developer (you name it!!) speaks, I wonder in amazement why is it that they are not asking me what I need?And why are they not clarifying what I ask them.

Maybe I’m not a Hi Net Worth (HNW) customer. I’m just one of the average, potential customers. Yet, time and again, I’ve not found explanations or details answering my queries. In fact I’ve never even been entertained as to what I want.
Just a “here’s a fabulous product. Oh! it’s sharia compliant by the way and you should look at it!” 

That’s all there is to the sales process?

Long story short, I’ve always left (these types of insurance, Islamic Finance investment product discussions/meet ups) feeling that:

A) The guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
B) They are still charging “interest”- just ‘disguising’ it with jargon
C) The brand is only interested in my money i.e. in making profit
D) What am I getting out of it?

The ‘what am i getting out of it?’ bit intrigued me! So to check, I went around my friends, family, associates, colleagues… Muslims and non-Muslims. To my surprise, the majority response I got was–” hey they are all the same. Just want your money and then they forget you”! And this response made me wonder…

Are the organisations in the Islamic finance & Halal sectors even bothered to know what is “brand experience”?

Here’s a scenario:

  • A sales person, knowledgeable and understanding the philosophy of his brand and the intention (objective), starts a dialogue with a potential client. Over time he understands his client’s financial needs and builds a professional relationship in which his client develops trust on the sales person. This trust then enables the sales person to advice (note the key word here is ‘advice’ NOT SELL) which product would best suit the client’s need.
  • During this period (of developing the relationship), the sales person provides information on the customer’s financial status and needs to product developers. This would enable the product developers to develop, customized products for that customer. Which then the sales person would have no problem in “selling” as it would answer the needs of the customer.
  • Lastly, given the “trust” created the customer is more receptive to the product than otherwise.

Once the first transaction has taken place, it’s a matter of time before that trust delivers more and more value to the brand (and in turn to the organisation). Resulting in the brand being profitable and respected. A brand with whom the customer wants to continue having a strong relationship as he finds “value” (of the advise and of customised products).

The value of such a relationship, over time, is enormous! As an example imagine the brand has 10 such strong relationships! Not only is the brand earning at a direct level through the transactions that these 10 customers have with it, but the referrals the customers give (and for sure they will if they are truly happy and have trust on the brand) bring it a secondary earning. The brand benefits financially and creates strong emotional value which impacts on the organisations’ reputation. 

But where are such brand experiences?

Whilst we read and experience such brand relationships in other sectors, the Islamic finance & Halal sectors seemed to have only taken the “stakeholders profit” maxim from their conventional counterparts in doing business.

Barring a couple of regional brands, there is absolutely no focus whatsoever on developing relationships through brand experience. Even some of the global Halal brands leave a lot to be desired for on this count.

Why is this so?

Is it the financial pressure on the business? (given that majority of Halal businesses are in the medium to large enterprise category & any Islamic financial services operates on the classic banking model where cost of money has to be earned back before the quarter is out).

Or is it a sheer lack of understanding the value of relationships?

Whichever it is, doing the same thing and expecting different results, just wont bring those desired results in.

Till business plans focus on developing relationships, using all that today’s technology offers us in a long-term planned manner, sustainability of organisations in these two industry sectors as suspect.

Leadership and Culture are Inextricably Linked

Visual Courtesy: joelafferty.com

Visual Courtesy: joelafferty.com

An organisation’s success is inextricably tied to the culture that the organisation has.

Culture that is defined by the behaviour of the organisational leaders, the processes of the organisation and the people who make up that organisation.

  1. People—people are diverse and when they come into an organisation they bring, along with their technical competencies and skills, their individual behaviour in terms of  leadership, team-work and communication ability.
  2. Processes—processes that are in place in an organisation impact how the staff carry out their activities. Either the processes aid daily works functioning or they hinder and as a result be the source of a tremendous stress.
  3. Business Purpose—the reason why the organisation exists and what is it they need to do to ensure the organisation is sustainable.

So when we have a diverse group of people with a load of processes in place and specific leadership styles in play, a cultural mask forms. This cultural mask is how the organisation operates on a daily basis.

The importance of behaviour from the leaders cannot be understated. What the leaders, knowingly or unknowingly, display sets the behavioral indicators for staff who then emulate the same. This has serious implications on the day-to-day functioning of an organisation, on the emotional (and physical health) of the employee, and finally on the organisation’s brand image and reputation.

The key lever here is leadership.

Depending on the industry sector and the organisations’ position within that sector and its mission, leadership becomes the only critical element that will either build or destroy the organisation. Leadership can impact on the organisational culture positively or negatively.

As a leader tasked with turning around organisation culture, it’s critical to:

  1. Understand the business you are in and thus focus on the critical aspects of housekeeping in order to get the organisation to battle-worthy status
  2. Individually, work with the teams, in those critical areas to ensure achievement
  3. Identify champions and recognise and reward them ethically and socially
  4. Groom a second line of decision makers to provide succession planning

Whilst this is neither an exhaustive  nor a fail-safe list, these four leadership must-do’s’ are my leadership guidelines gleaned over my career through interactions with CEO’s of various types of organisations who have been successful in changing their culture because their leaders undertook these four steps.