There are signs that the world of organisation and leadership development is just starting to cotton on to the idea of the importance of connecting people to organisational purpose. “About bloody time!” we say. We’ve been banging on about this since before Collins and Porras made the compelling case for Purpose and Values in ‘Built to Last’ some 20 years ago. Simon Sinec has started to popularise the Why, What and How but honestly, we really have been talking about this and helping organisations articulate their purpose since Simon was in nappies. (We do love you Si…)

Purpose and its partner – Values - sit in the Lower Left Cultural Quadrant of the Integral Framework.

Here’s what we say.

Purpose is the ‘why’ an organisation exists; its unique reason for being. When Purpose is not understood clearly or is defined without the interests of critical stakeholders being considered, issues will likely arise, many of them not pretty (think Australian Banks).

Values (and their all-important underpinning behaviours) are fundamental to ‘how’ an organisation enacts its culture and forms the weft and weave of the fabric of an organisation.

Vision is the ‘what’ and it is a process of creation – as individuals or organisations, we make this up – we decide what we want the future to look like.

Solid research shows that organisations that endure and prosper are characterised by the reach of their Vision and strategic goals (the ‘what’), their core ideology or Purpose (the ‘why’) and their Values (the ‘how’).

The rise in the popularity of a focus on Purpose seems not dissimilar to the wave of “doing” Values some years back. Like we’ve said before, we don’t care where you access this stuff from, as long as you get it because your organisation and people in it, really need it. Why? Because core ideology (i.e. Purpose & Values) is the reason that organisations endure and prosper. Purpose has the single biggest impact on employee engagement and employee engagement has the single biggest impact on results, performance and profitability. For a bit more on this see our blog “So Just What Does Culture Eat for Breakfast?”

Tips on Purpose and Values
A couple of critical flags in relation to Purpose:
Tip 1: You don’t make it up, you need to go through a process of uncovering Purpose; it’s more an act of revelation than creation.
Tip 2: Once you have articulated a Purpose please note: If you can measure it, you’re not there yet and it’s not a Purpose– you may have a few more layers of uncovering to do. Measurement is for your Vision and Strategy, not your Purpose.

And on Values:

Tip 1: If you’re going through a process of articulating or refreshing Values for your organisation please PLEASE describe them behaviourally –ensure you and your people know what each Value looks like and what it doesn’t look like; what you will do and what you won’t do. Otherwise your Values are not worth the wall they’re written on.
Tip 2: If you’re hiring consultants to help you, make sure they understand the difference between a value and a behaviour.

To give you an example of how critical it is to describe a value behaviourally, most of us would agree that Integrity is a good thing, lots of organisations have this a Value. But what does Integrity look like? The Mafia upholds a value of integrity; but in that organisation, integrity means that it’s OK to shoot somebody, but not in the back – i.e. have the “integrity” to look them in the eye when you shoot them. By the way, one reason that organisations like the Mafia, ISIS or Al Qaeda can endure is their alignment to their organisation Purpose and Values. We are certainly not advocating support for their Purpose and Values but there’s no denying their efficacy in aligning people to a purpose and way of being that these organisations care deeply about.

We’ve got so many of our own stories regarding how Purpose and Values bring organisations alive and improve results.

Here’s just two that come to mind.

One of our directors did some work for one of the major Australian financial institutions. She worked with the division that looked after life insurance and its senior team articulated its Purpose as: ‘To alleviate unnecessary hardship for all Australians’. The supporting dialogue that went along with this was critical and went something like: “When you are standing by the grave of your loved one, the last thing you want to be thinking about is how you are going to pay for funeral. That’s why we want all Australians to have life insurance. Get if from our competitors or get from us, but please get it!” The articulation of this Purpose fundamentally changed this organisation’s approach to marketing and its national advertising campaign (their product/service and brand was barely mentioned). Everyone from the GM to their junior number-crunching actuaries were uplifted by knowing that what they did on a day to day basis was helping to alleviate unnecessary hardship for all Australians.

In another organisation, the cleaners at a major hospital are enthusiastic with a great team spirit because they are contributing to the noble intention of helping ‘To stop the spread of communicable deadly diseases every day’.

One more thing on this… before you make any major strategic decision, ensure you have clearly articulated your Purpose, Values & Behaviours, then make sure your decision is absolutely aligned with this – if you do this, you can’t go wrong. Not only can you not go wrong, you and your organisation will be leaving a legacy way beyond your tenure.

If you think we’re on an unapologetic soap box here, wait til our next article.
Til then…
PS: Have you got a Purpose or Values story that you can share? We’d love to hear from you if so. You can also send us your Purpose statement and/or Values (and Behaviours if you have them) and we’ll happily, at no cost, assess them against our criteria for a truly engaging Purpose and a set of Values that will help create a vibrant culture.
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The previous articles in this series are:

  1. We’re Not in Good Shape

  2. Making Sense of a F**ked Up World

  3. You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet