I was stunned when I heard him say it. In just a few short words, Andy Crouch, speaking at the Faith Driven Entrepreneur Conference 2022, captured what we've been working to explain for the entire life of our company. It was as if we'd finally found the words that describe our purpose. Clarity about the "why" fuels the work.
What is the purpose of (our) business?
Helping companies and nonprofits to accomplish good, hard things is our purpose.
It's easy to get caught up in the modern version of the American dream - work like crazy while staying digitally connected 24/7 and then either drop from exhaustion or seek an escape like binge-watching an entire series, or looking for oblivion in food or drink. It's a condition that frequents not only the experience of employees but also managers and senior leaders across our culture. In Andy Crouch's words, this is "toil and leisure", and it's the opposite of good work and good rest.
Doing good, hard things is what leads to this ability to do good work and then enjoy the rest that comes from the satisfaction that results.
Accomplishing good, hard things is the aim of companies and nonprofits that want to build both sustainable growth and create a transformational impact inside their organizations and in the world around them.
- Good, Hard Things that Create Company Growth
- What are Good, Hard Things?
- Companies Tackle Good Hard Things
What's toil in the world of marketing and sales?
It is doing work to reach customers that is fruitless, labor that demands your time and creativity but does not yield a result.
While there are lots of examples of physical toil around the globe, the marketing world is full of this kind of work, too. Research by Lean Labs suggests that about 84% of marketing campaigns barely break even. That means that the labor that went into them, and the cost of that effort barely recouped what was invested—that's fruitless.
And in the world of marketing and sales, there are lots of stressed out, overworked, frustrated people who are mostly toiling. And the business leaders that manage them are having the same experience, working harder but getting fewer results. The lack of strategy and integrated systems helps to push them there.
There is no satisfaction in simply trading exhausting, detailed work for zero profit. That is toil.
The cultural mythology that many people live in suggests that the job of a company is to make toil easier and leisure more abundant. Leisure (which I call, escape) is defined by the fact that it is connected to toil. It is not that the activity is innately bad, it simply cannot result in real rest that comes from the satisfaction of good work.
We cannot change people's lives by simply offering cheaper escape— in one way it's actually fueling their lifestyle of toil. But we can change the world if we help others accomplish good, hard work.
What are good, hard things?
Doing good things seems like the easier part of this equation. We don't mean this in the general sense of a general pat on the back, "good job." Nor do we mean this is simply fulfilling the obligations of your day, contract, or role. It means something more.
At Story Collaborative, we're building our understanding of what this means for us in our approach to helping, and our first-round effort to define the term is illustrated below. Good, hard things in our perspective include three things:
First, the work has the potential to be transformative for the business in including its employees, customers, and community;
Second, the work will bring the people who do it and benefit from it closer to their highest potential;
Third, good, hard things refers to outcomes that would not normally occur as a result of the regular course of culture or economy.
1. Good, hard things are transformative
As weird as it may seem, we started Story Collaborative as a nonprofit because we wanted to work with mission-minded companies. The problem was, no one would take us seriously, because we weren't putting a profit motive out front. So we transitioned to a for-profit corporation. But our passion for working with companies that are focused on creating transformation didn't change.
Good, hard things, in our view, create transformation in the industry, community, employee, or customer experience. There are certain things in the world of technology that we can view as liberating for people. But we have to take into account both the negative and positive impacts of technological implementation. For example, we now have spell check, and AI writing, but have we retained the ability to spell and write? Trade-offs matter.
Some industries are fraught with deceptive practices, a poor service ethic, or low product quality. Companies that work to create a new narrative can transform their industry and the workers and customers served.
Some industries have been built on the backs of worker toil, and working to create jobs that allow for both good work and good rest can be a transformative act all by itself.
Companies that build social good into their business models, like Tom's Shoes (one that everyone knows) or Malawi's Pizza, create transformation in the lives of recipients from what the business generates and then gives away. While many businesses donate to social causes, not all of those are transformative, and the depth of that transformation can be expanded by the way that employees and customers participate.
Social enterprise companies take this to the next level by developing a business with the purpose of meeting a need that the economy or culture probably will not. Nonprofits focus on the need itself with support from donors.
Mission-minded companies, along with social enterprises and nonprofits, can all be transformative. And many are doing good, hard things.
Partnering with social organizations and nonprofits can lead to transformative outcomes, but it requires that the business treat the KPIs of the social program as just as important as other business outcomes. Otherwise, that giving can fall into slush fund approaches designed to primarily appease political correctness, or token giving that makes leaders feel better without creating a real impact.
Transformation can occur in more than one dimension of impact and can grow over time—in fact, it should.
2. Good, hard things Help people reach their highest potential
Simply creating a situation that makes toil a little easier or leisure more accessible won't lift people or help them reach their full potential. A simple example is the invention of the wheelbarrow. Wheelbarrows have a big impact on the ability to move heavy things like bricks, rocks, or soil. Instead of requiring two people to lift the load and deliver it, one person could do this work. It's a marvelous invention.
However, while we might make the toil a little easier with a wheelbarrow, we really haven't transformed anything for this worker. In many cases, the manager might just expect more work per laborer. In order to help this worker reach their potential, we have to create a job in which the increased efficiency opens an opportunity for upgraded skills—something the company has to prioritize.
Good, hard things create jobs that cultivate good work and good rest.
We view this from a creation perspective. To us this means that a person's highest potential is holistic—mental, physical, social, and spiritual potential has to be considered as you see the impact that what you provide has on those who receive it. Is it helping them to grow into their unique talents, dreams, and goals, or is it degrading those essential human realities? Is it building stronger relationships, families, and communities, or enabling isolation or poor relationships? Does it lift them spiritually, or the opposite?
Helping people toward their highest potential not only applies to how we treat workers, but also to the way that our product or service impacts the world around us. A simple example is found in the movie industry. You can easily name a movie that either lifts the thinking or the spirit of a person toward a better life or the opposite—it degrades or debases their thinking. The outcome of our work needs to lift people toward their highest and best if we want to do good, hard things.
3. Good, hard things go beyond the course of what culture or the economy would ordinarily produce
Nonprofits and social enterprises are designed to deliver services and support for outcomes that are not commercially viable. There are a lot of things that may never result if we rely only on the commercial process. That's where these socially focused organizations step in.
But the opportunity for creating change is not restricted to the socially focused organization, it also flows from companies that innovate and solve problems using approaches that haven't been used before. These companies create solutions for problems that weren't commercially viable—before they went to work.
Others accomplish the work of creating change by donating profits to causes and making that work part of their mission. Speaking of missions, Mission BBQ is an example of a company that is working on transformation by increasing honor for veterans and first responders and giving generously ($20 Million since they opened in 2011). They are doing two things that haven't been in the normal course of culture, and they've made it commercially viable (they are also great tasting- my favorite is pulled pork with Smoky Mountain sauce and coleslaw on top).
Socially focused, generous, and innovative companies are shaping the world around them rather than allowing needs and problems to go unmet.
Internal and External Good, Hard Things
Good, hard things that organizations need to tackle happen both within the company itself and in the community that is around it. The internal good, hard things must be tackled to make external impact possible.
In some industries, creating good work that leads to good rest is a major accomplishment—in fact, it may be the case in most industries. Some companies will make this their primary focus, and "good work is a good, hard thing," to quote Andy Crouch.
It's important to see that the impact of a workforce that is accomplishing worthwhile things creates an impact even if the company isn't overtly acting externally because it changes the ability of that work to thrive at home, at church, and in the community. A satisfied, healthy worker makes a much better soccer coach (and parent) than a stressed-out one.
For many companies, they are able to layer external good, hard things onto their internal efforts. These companies will span the gamut of generosity, cause focus, or direct social enterprise. The combination of internal good work with good rest and intentional changemaking in the world is powerful.
Story Collaborative wants to work with companies that are on this journey, both for employees and for their community or even the world.
Good, Hard Things that Fuel Growth
Here are some of the ways that we help accomplish good, hard things in the companies that we work with. Each of these elements are good, hard things that many companies struggle to achieve.
- Move sales and marketing team members from fruitless to purposeful. Too many sales and marketing people live with frustration and barriers that are debilitating.
- Establish a rhythm of strategy, focused execution, and evaluation leading to new strategy and improvement. Knowing that you have a plan that is working and that will constantly improve fosters focus and confidence.
- Build trust with people who are not yet customers. Building trust in a skeptical world is no small thing; it is a significant step toward growth and impact.
- Position your company as a servant leader with customers who need someone they can trust. Provide meaningful insights that help them make good decisions. With all the voices calling for consumer and business attention, becoming a voice that actually helps is a powerful role that can be hard to achieve.
- Create a profitable system for winning qualified customers. Companies that want to be sustainable and profitable rely upon the ability to consistently win new customers affordably. If they rely upon an expensive lead generation strategy, then that can make them less sustainable and even break their business model.
- Build a buyer journey that connects real insight about the industry with the needs and challenges of the customer. Reconfigure your marketing to speak to those needs in a way that adds value is a good, hard thing.
Who's perfect? No one here.
All of these ideas are a work in progress for us, and we're not looking for businesses or nonprofits that have it totally figured out. We are looking for those with a mission-minded and growth mindset, and those who are committed to creating the kind of environment inside their organization and in the world around them that is transformative.