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A Bright North Star Shines a Light on Company Success

August 11, 2023


Most companies set out with revenue goals or Key Performance Indicators to help them set their sights on growth and to denote success. These goals and measurements are crucial for general business operations and financial planning, however, the impact of those goals can feel far away for anyone but the company owners. Does a positive Profit & Loss report really get entry level employees out of bed in the morning? Does year over year growth really draw out people’s best performance for a Friday afternoon deadline? Does 20,000 units sold inspire a near-retiree to deliver above and beyond what’s expected? 

Creating a team full of motivated individuals requires a collective purpose, or a North Star that is immediately accessible, impactful, and undeniably human. A North Star (formally known as Organizational Impact) goes beyond profits and numbers, and focuses on creating some “good” in the world or improving the lives of others. 

To be clear, neither one is superior or meant to replace the other. Both are extremely important, and ideally, a company can hold both in their vision. Business goals are vital for taking aligned action and creating systems, and a North Star helps infuse those actions with passion.

So, what is a North Star and how does it differentiate from a business goal? A North Star is what happens once the business goal is successfully reached, or the subsequent effect. It’s measured by the experience and impact of the business rather than the actions and production required to sustain it. The North Star reflects the purpose of the company and how it will touch the community. Remember: a company’s purpose is not to make money–money is the natural byproduct of  a purpose that delivers value to its customers.

For example, to “produce 10,000 cars” is a business goal, and “to create freedom” is the North Star. To “build the most adaptable wheelchair on the market” is a business goal, and to “facilitate independence” is the North Star. To “develop the most durable running shoe” is a business goal and to “facilitate someone’s full potential” is a North Star. To “establish the fastest video call platform” is a business goal, and to “connect separated loved ones for important moments” is a North Star.

Imagine this scenario with me; You and your team are exhausted after a long project sprint where you’ve been working overtime heading into the holidays. You’ve given it your best, when your boss comes to you and says there was an error and the project needs to be redone. If your boss says, “we need to get this right so we can be the fastest video call platform and hit our Q4 sales targets”…how does that make you feel? If your boss says “we need to get this right so that millions of travel-restricted grandparents can see their grandkids open their presents on Christmas”…how does that make you feel? 

The North Star isn’t designed to guilt employees into working harder. Our work truly does have an important impact, that we can easily get detached from. When we stay connected to how valuable our efforts are, and how other people’s lives are improved because of our service or product, the same challenges can feel worthy and fulfilling, instead of draining. 

A study by Mckinsey found that employees who find their work meaningful are 33% more productive–and that’s because they want to be! 

We can all relate to the foundational deductions of the human experience. It’s easy to get lost in the complexities of revenue growth, business plans, and product specs…but delivering joy, freedom, security, health, excitement, or efficiency of the consumer is universal at its core. No matter the role someone has in the company, they can find inspiration in wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Now you know why the North Star, or Organizational Impact, matters so much. So, how do you find your own? Here are some reflective prompts our team has used to generate ideas and discover meaning. 

  • What would your company’s return currency be if money didn’t exist?
  • What is the next “ripple effect” beyond a successful business goal?
  • How is the client’s organization better off after having employed your company’s product/services? (B2B)
  • How would a client benefit from selecting your company vs the competitors? Why are you different/better?
  • How does your product enable your clients to offer better services to their customers? (B2B) Or, how does our product improve the end user’s experience? (B2C)
  • As a group, what is the most important thing your company hopes to achieve during its time in operation? 

Try these out in your next group meeting to uncover a shared mission that unites your team and makes the hard days feel worth it.

Written by: Allison Manzi, Director of Performance & Culture