The North Star is that one thing that no matter where a member of your company sits, they can see it at all times.
It’s steady. It never moves. It’s far away, but clear.
The North Star is your “why”.
“People don’t by what you do, they buy why you do it”. –Simon Sinek
That same concept goes for employees.
They come into work energized every day, motivated, not because of what they’re doing, but because of why they’re doing it.
Startups can get especially chaotic. There are a lot of moving parts, a culture that’s still developing, people juggling multiple roles and a lot of strong opinions about the right way to get things done.
Chaos is okay. It keeps things moving. It adapts quickly. But if you don’t have a North Star, then no one knows if they’re moving, or adapting in the right direction.
The North Star HAS to be a why. Not a how, or a what.
What does that mean?
I’ll use my company as an example:
At Feast, our North Star, our why, is “To help people learn skills that will improve their lives forever.”
If we used a how for our North Star, it might sound something like “Building an education experience using online and offline tools to remove any barriers to learning new skills”.
If we used a what for our North Star, it might sound something like “Online cooking classes with beautiful videos and images and delivery of all the ingredients to peoples’ homes.”
Our why won’t change.
Our how and what will probably change. One day, we may decide that delivering ingredients isn’t the right approach, or that we need to completely reformat our online class experience.
That’s okay, because everyone in our company knows why we’re doing what we’re doing. They can see the North Star.
When your company pivots, and changes its how or what, you’ll expect your employees to understand the reasoning for change, and support it. Right? The only way that happens is if they have a North Star, and know WHY the pivot is important.
This has to start at the hiring process.
Don’t hire people who are “passionate” about the how or what. That kind of passion is bullshit.
Hire people who can see the North Star without convincing. Find people who believe in the why from the start.
We don’t want people working with us on Feast because they love food or cooking. We want them working with us because they believe that there’s a better way to help people learn skills that will improve their lives forever.
Maybe they think that what we’re doing isn’t the best approach to reach that goal. Good! Hire those people. That kind of discourse is what will help you think critically about the why, and adapt your product in the right direction.
It’s okay to adapt the words of your why in order to better convey its meaning.
But if the day comes when you need to actually change the meaning of why your company exists, be prepared. You’ll have to do some major restructuring, because you’re pretty much building a new company and existing team members and stakeholders may no longer be a good fit.
What’s your company’s North Star? Can you see it?
Hat tip to Wes Radez for inspiring this post over tea.