I have always been a believer of having a north star or as some people call it a big hairy audacious goal, especially at work.
To me, not having a north star feels like working without a purpose. It’s honestly much more than the sales targets, lead numbers, CSAT metrics. For me, the north star defines the very essence of a business’ existence over a particular period of time. It’s the inspiration that helps me to take bolder decisions and keep decision making simple. Many a times it’s the guiding light when the future seems bleak (and believe me, that happens quite often!).
Having said that, I realize that it’s not easy to identify your purpose and to define it. It’s even tougher, when you have a team that has to be aligned to a common north star. But over the years, I have realized that nothing simplifies work and unifies teams than knowing what you are working towards “collectively”.
Recently, I have connected with many start-up founders and leaders to help them with their go-to-market strategy, scaling operations, global growth, team building and funding. To me, a big differentiator in the maturity curve of a leader is the stage of goal-setting that a leader operates in. While some know exactly what their north star is, some are getting there and many don’t know where to start from.
In fact, if the executive team isn’t clear about the north star, the purpose begins to fade and becomes blurry as you go further down the ladder. Different teams create their own success metrics and as a result, despite all the hard work and a stellar team, the organization might move forward but in different directions.
Here is an image I think of often - imagine as if a team is rowing a boat. If all the rowers are not coordinated to move together in the same direction, the boat may still progress ahead but at a speed much slower than if all the team members were really aligned on rowing in the same direction. Your north star helps to get the rowing actions to become well-coordinated and highly effective.
Here are some benefits that make it worth spending all the time and resources on finding your north star and then aligning your team to it:
Purpose Driven Decision Making
Once the entire organization works towards a single goal, decision making becomes easier. It also helps in prioritizing projects and removes many conflicts.
For instance, at EduKart, my EdTech marketplace startup, we decided on a north star to “Provide courses for all”. This meant that we needed as many course providers and courses as possible for the aspiring students to choose from. This helped us prioritize contracts, approvals, pitch calls, campaigns and discussions during meetings. If anyone in the organization had to choose between getting a course provider on board vs any other task, the choice was clear.
North star = focus to say ‘Yes’, but more importantly focus to say ‘No’
Minimizes Personal Conflicts
Conflict within the team is any leader’s nightmare. Like most team leaders, I have spent days trying to resolve such conflicts. So how do you make a choice without letting any unconscious bias kick in?
Simply, follow your north star! Try to identify which idea or which project will take you closer to your goals and you will see the choice becomes easy. Remember, it’s always good to explain your reason in these cases and make it clear that you rejected or selected the idea and not the person.
North star = takes the personal element out of decision making
Helps Define Short-Term Goals/ OKRs:
Having your team’s energy, action and emotion aligned to the north star also helps you to define the short-term—monthly, quarterly, annual—goals. Once you know what your larger goal is, it’s easier to break it down into easily achievable milestones.
North star = goal formation for easier execution
So How Do You Define the North Star?
Long answer short - Ask yourself some tough questions!
Where do you want to be long term?
Why does all of this really matter?
What is the real win?
If you wanted to do just one thing, what would it be?
What is the time frame for this long term goal setting?
Many leaders make a mistake of considering the revenue or customer lifetime value or retention or churn numbers as the north star. Although these are great success metrics, I feel your north star has to tie all of these success metrics into one. The intention is to have your entire organization identify with it and not just the customer-facing teams.
Without asking some tough questions like the ones above, one will not be able to define the purpose and hence the north star.
Take your time! Know your target market, customers, products and gradually somewhere on this journey you will know how you want to define your company.
If you have already defined your north star, I would love to know how you did it!
Very well written Ishan. Your topics are always interesting. Being a start up owner I learn a lot from your leadership lessons. Cheers!!!