This week I want to build on a comment I posted on Linkedin. In response to a post about the expansive impact of organisational purpose (beyond warm and fuzzy words) I noted:
“How to use purpose is hugely unexplored territory. As you note the warm fuzzy aspect is well-covered. Less well understood and discussed is the work of bringing purpose into the messy and unheroic day-to-day work of organisations. Without that work, purpose has little chance of becoming a distinctive and enduring aspect of identity.”
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the role of ‘chief purpose officer’ and why my pick for it is the chief operating officer (or equivalent). Both that post and the above quote are part of the same thread of thought. Increasingly I see organisational purpose as a question of ‘how’, as much as ‘why’. So let’s look at how it travels through an organisation.
Think of an inverted pyramid with leadership at the bottom and the bulk of the organisation in the middle and the external environment at the top.
Organisational purpose starts with leadership and is pushed up through the organisation through their actions and decisions. But the purpose is not solely the job of leadership or even the suggested purpose officer. It can only be considered a recognised part of identity when it reaches the top of the pyramid.
The most apparent way leaders drive and support the purpose is to talk about it, and keep talking about it, until it gets stuck in people’s minds like one of those annoying ads you remember from childhood.
And leaders can’t stop with talk. They also set an example through what they do and how they do it, which in turn shapes how the organisation does things and pulls purpose to the middle layer where the bulk of actions and decisions sit.
Learn more about how the little things are the big things click here.
Here’s a question to ask yourself: beyond the usual suspects where the purpose shows up, for example when hiring people or thinking about new products and services, when do people in your organisation actively bring it into how they do things?
Right here is where purpose often comes to a screaming halt. Even as it tries to leap to the middle layer, the reason the ‘why’ never quite gets past warm words and sentiments is an issue of process. Just saying it will not make it so.
While there is a process discipline for nearly every aspect of the way an organisation operates, I’ve yet to see one for using purpose — and no I don’t count culture change. How does purpose show up in the processes, policies and practices of your finance, technology, sales and marketing, manufacturing and distribution?
Yes, purpose inspires action, but if it isn’t also part of what those actions are and how they are carried out, it won’t ever travel beyond the middle layer and reach your customers at the top of the pyramid.
See you next week.