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Keynotes: Achieving clarity of Purpose

Purpose has become a buzzword in recent years. This can be viewed as a positive development, as Purpose is pivotal to Organizational Flow. At the same time, some of the hype risks obscuring the essential value of purpose to organizational performance. It is important to narrow down what Purpose is and how it should be properly embedded as an organizational quality.

Oxford University and Ernst and Young found that public dialog on purpose has increased five-fold between 1995 and 2016. (See the EY Beacon Institute report on The state of the debate on purpose in business).

To be truly valuable, a Purpose should pinpoint an aspirational reason for being that inspires and provides a call to action for an organization, as well as its partners and stakeholders. It does not have to promise some higher-order or world changing impact (although that certainly helps); what it should do is clearly express the organization’s impact on whatever group it is trying to serve.

However, if a statement of Purpose is to fully perform its job  if it is to convert intent into strategic clarity, aligned endeavor and, ultimately, improved financial performance  there must be more to it than a call to action. A well-crafted Purpose statement will include the guiderails that will steer the organization toward its aspiration. (For more on this, see our research insight, “The pivotal role of Purpose”.)

To play its proper role in Changing Organizations for Good, a Purpose statement should:

  • Be organization-specific, communicating what makes the organization unique and thus differentiating it from others;
  • Identify the gap that the organization is seeking to fill;
  • Articulate how the Purpose will be delivered;
  • Demonstrate that the organization is set up to deliver, by highlighting what is essential about its culture, as well as its products and services;
  • Acknowledge the challenges that will need to be overcome; and
  • Define how the advancement of its Purpose will be measured.

Devising such a statement is not easy. This is not something that can be done quickly or with minimum collective endeavor. Indeed, the process of crafting the statement is an essential contribution to Changing Organizations for Good. Given the right approach, Purpose has the potential to establish the discipline that will enable the organization to leave behind the traditional methods of command and control and move confidently to ones more appropriate in a VUCA world, emphasizing the more delegated approaches that lead to people feeling connected, inspired, highly valued and empowered to perform.