The power of Intent in unlocking high performance…

Since publishing our experience as a “fully flexible” business (or as is more topically known, “Remote” or  “Distributed”) I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people wanting to know more about what goes on under the hood, culturally and operationally, at Headstart. So I’m sharing a few of the things I have learnt over the years which I think are essential to creating an environment of success.

There are many places I could consider to start but ultimately it all comes back to Intent, both business and personal. Why do you exist as a business? What problem are you trying to solve? Why do you ‘care’ about it as a business and individual?
I never considered the importance of intent nor its impact until later in my working life. In my early career I was totally engaged in my work, but there was no clear intent in any of it. I had a thirst for knowledge and experience and I enjoyed the field I was in – HR. I enjoyed being in a business in general. I left the profession after 10 years to search for something ‘more’, and the rest is history.

But it wasn’t until I joined The Chemistry Group that I experienced a company with a clear intent and saw how strong a force it could be.

Chemistry’s intent was simple – To give everybody the opportunity to be brilliant at work. So simple yet so powerful. And so on the money. No sycophantic marketing statements about products or clients here. The focus is purely on the individual; Optimise the individual and get them firing on all cylinders and everything else follows, with huge benefits for the business too.

The inertia of course, came from the top, from the founder Roger Philby, one of the best story tellers I’ll ever meet I’m sure, and one of the few believers in how powerful a great culture can be. Everything revolved around our intent, and we invested heavily in it. It was a shared common purpose and passion. And it drove everything else. Supercharged it in fact.

Your intent is your “why”. It’s your reason you exist, not what you ultimately ‘do’ as a business.The value of Intent is worth way more than the sum of its parts. It cuts through in a way the tools, products or services you offer can never do. Granted, there’s plenty of money made by companies selling the ‘how’ but I would argue the highest performers have nailed their ‘why’, their intent. 

Intent can build great culture and identity, which is essential. At Headstart, we also have a strong intent – fairness. We seek to level the playing field for all applicants, no matter their background, status, gender, ethnic origin or disability. This intent creates a common bond amongst everyone who works here and permeates everything we do, from our behaviour towards each other through to the products we ultimately create.

Intent is a fundamental part of our internal identity at Headstart, acting as a beacon for why we exist and a roadmap of sorts we can follow and get behind in order to make the change we all want to see in the world. It provides clarity and can unlock the best in what humans have to offer including passion & commitment. When you have a strong ‘why’ it gives individuals something clear they can align to, or not, which is why it is so powerful.

Intent supercharges awareness of your product or service. If, like most organisations, you operate in a market of some level of maturity, the amount of ’noise’ in a marketing and competitive sense is high. Every communication channel known to man – and there are many of them these days! – is chock full of beautifully crafted (or not) ‘buy’ messages. The choices are many but the messages lack differentiation. Focussing on the how, on features and benefits can make standing out difficult. And cost a lot of time and money trying to sound louder than your oh so similar competitors. 

When you have a strong intent, a clear why, you cut through. You stand out. A message built around intent is much more powerful than one built around utility. It opens up the door to a much more powerful narrative. One that you can craft a series of ‘stories’ around. You start to connect with your audience on a different level. People will talk, share opinions, argue even, for hours, over a “why”. A strong intent can create an equally as strong interest in your business, that comes through word of mouth or hearing about your intent through their networks and media channels, especially the ‘informal’ ones between your target community members. 

Intent drives efficacy in your growth journey. It appeals, as Bret Starr would say, to your “Radical Buyer”. The concept of the radical buyer is a great one. It is the person in your target customer community that strongly identifies with your intent personally and has or sees a problem to solve that aligns with it. The beauty of the radical buyer concept for me is that it doesn’t have to mean an actual budget holder, buyer or senior person in the organisation. It can equally be an administrator or coordinator. 

Radical Buyers are the ones who champion the cause of your intent. If they are not themselves the decision maker or budget holder they actively lobby and campaign the ones who are, on your behalf. The strength of this intent brings with it a polarising effect that significantly increases the quality of conversations you have. 

Intent is empowering. I know it sounds cliché and the word empowerment has come in for some criticism in the past, but it is true. A strong intent has a number of implicit and explicit defining characteristics that label it clearly. It helps significantly in decision making, and gives clarity where there can be one too many shades of grey. When you work to a strong intent you are guided by those characteristics and they give you scope to act, with clarity and without the need to constantly ask permission or wait for a decision from elsewhere. If you act in the best interests of, and in harmony with, the intent, you will be much clearer on what to do. You can act with confidence. 

There is so much more to say about the power of Intent and I can only scratch the surface here. To summarise I would say it brings to life a reason for people to get up in the morning, something they can identify with that affords them an opportunity to see and add their own unique value to it. This in turn supercharges the whole business, across every function, through those people. It creates alignment, internally and externally and delivers on every level: socially, commercially and individually.

That’s the power of intent…

Disclaimer: I am acutely aware that the reality of working life for many is far from a box of chocolates and many many people out there are yet to find an organisation that has a purpose to which they can relate strongly. The reality of work for many can be at best “meh” to at worst, damaging to their physical and mental health. Nothing is as perfect as it sounds and even in the softest bed of roses there are bound to be the odd thorns! Our journey at Headstart has had many bumps in the road and we are still learning. But the strength of our Intent helps significantly to carry us through.

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