Organizing Around Purpose is perhaps the most critical organizing principle I will present in this book.The remaining three principles, choice, change, and context are important, but they are a means to an end, they better allow people to organize for a reason that matters.
The Purpose of Organizational Purpose
All organizations are created for a reason, to accomplish goals that us lone individuals cannot by ourselves. There are few things more motivating than collaborating with others to achieve something we believe in. To be part of something bigger, something that matters. All organizations were originally created for these reasons. All organizations were created for a purpose.
When organizations are functioning well they instill their members with their purpose, a purpose that motivates these members to work together to achieve it. Strong purpose gives us a sense of belonging, a community to engage with, a change to create together.
Organizations with strong purpose perform better than organizations who’s purpose is weak or poorly understood. With strong purpose, motivation, autonomy, self – organization, etc all become a matter of course. When people can contribute to purpose the need for expensive and crippling bureaucracy slips away, people use values, not rules to guide their decisions.
Most Organizations Seem Bereft Of Purpose
Yet today, these simple truths are lost in most of the larger organizations we work for. When asked, most employees struggle to understand or explain the purpose of the organization they belong to. Even where purpose is understood, most employees are not equipped or empowered to contribute meaningfully to that purpose. A wall of bureaucracy and an organizational labyrinth make it impossible to navigate how one’s work contributes to any meaningful outcome. In many cases the organizational purpose is uninspiring, uninteresting, and provides very little cause for people to rally around.
The result is your average employee is more likely to approach their every day work life like a zombie, shuffling from one task to the next then with a sense of passion or purpose. Many organizations belatedly respond by crafting lofty sounding mission statements. Statements, that bear no resemblance to how the organization interacts with it’s employees and customers. The result is we can now add a healthy sense of cynicism to our organizational experience.
Frederic Laloux, in his book “Reinventing Organizations” talks about the evolution of organizations that strive to place purpose at the center of everything they do. Frederic states that purpose driven organizations are essential to not only combating the suffering and disillusionment being caused by the traditional command and control, hierarchical structures of today’s organizations, but incredibly, to overcome the daunting problems of our times. Purposeful organizations, according to Frederic, are far more likely to heal our relationship with the world and the damage traditional organizations have caused. Frederick even states that the very fate of the human race may rest on our ability to evolve organizations to ones grounded in strong purpose.
Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness . Nelson Parker. Kindle Edition.
Purpose – A Key Organizing Principle
Some of the promises of purpose driven organizations may seem indeed seem lofty, but I think most of us realize inside that when we organize around a higher purpose, we perform better. We function better as individuals, we collaborate more effectively as teams, and we increase our impact on the world as an organization. So what can we do to better organize around purpose? How can we move from our current situation, which is likely typified by ambiguity, short-termism, and narrow minded aspirations?
When we Organize Around Purpose, we place deliberate focus on on improving the strength of our purpose, as well as shifting our organizing structures to make it easier for people to meaningfully contribute to that purpose. We can say we are paying attention to the principle of being Organizing Around Purpose when we:
- Define our organization’s reason for existence in term of achieving a higher purpose, rather than existing to make profit, or grow market share, we are able adjust our purpose to answer a higher calling
- ground our purpose in organizational values and that are made real by the corresponding actions, decisions, and choices we make at all levels of the organization
- shift our organizing structure from inward facing, command and control hierarchy to decentralized structure that is cross functional, market facing, and organized according to outcomes
In the coming chapters of the next revision of my book I’ll cover
- Strengthening organizational purpose
- Connecting purpose to values, beliefs and behavior (eg Mindset) across your Organization
- Looking at how agile practices can help you facilitate purpose definition of purpose driven structure, with a specific eye towards Impact Mapping
- Organizing structures that enable people to achieve outcomes related to purpose
Like this article? Take a look at more like this in the book Organize Forward. It’s undergoing a major revision, but there is still lot’s of good stuff to digest.