Purpose Driven Organizations In Action

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In my last post on Organizing forward, I wrote about the important of Organizing Around Purpose, and talked about the difference between weak and strong purpose. In summary, strong organizing purpose transcends profit, revenue, and growth. Strong purpose is solely about the market, or market outcomes, those are all a means to an end. Organizations are created to change the world, and truly resilient organizations will base their decisions, actions, and choices on world changing purpose.

In this post I’ll provide some examples of Organizations that are guided by world changing purpose. It would be fair to say that only a minority of large organizations use a higher, world changing purpose as a moral compass that guides the actions of it’s people. But there are plenty of amazing examples where they do, and these examples are are extremely compelling. In fact there are plenty of purpose driven institutions who are organizing forward, and thriving, all around us.

Patagonia

Patagonia is one such compelling example. It’s mission statement is “We’re in business to save our home planet.”. Whether it be donating the complete profits from their Black Friday sales (millions of dollars) to the environment, or creating their new office space by restoring condemned building using recycled materials, it is clear that the actions Patagonia take as an organization is infused with their purpose. It is an attitude that inspires actions on all levels of the organization.

Patagonia initially formed out of it’s founder, Yvon Chouinard’s, love of rock climbing and passion for the outdoors. He started by making his own, highly specialized gear, teaching himself how to forge equipment that became so popular with the climbers that he began to make a living out of it. Starting with climbing pitons, he then slow diversified his product line and grew his business into the world wide brand it is today.

Despite growing into a world class entity, Yvon continues to strive to keep his organization true to purpose. Still an avid climber, Yvon became disgusted with the rock degradation he witnessed during an ascent of El Capitan. It was apparent, during his climb, that the rock faces he frequented were being disfigured at an accelerating pace, and they were being disfigured by the very pitons he started his business with and continued to sell. The response was the rapid design and market deployment of an alternative that would leave rocks unaltered, aluminum chocks that could be wedge by hand. With a few years the Piton business was done. The up side for Patagonia? They sold like hot cakes, people bought them faster than Patagonia could make them

An interesting attribute about purpose driven businesses is that they often make decisions that appear risky, that are counter to common profit making sense, and not good for the business bottom line. Purpose driven organizations take action based on accomplishing purpose driven outcomes. One would assume that this would lead to poor organizational performance and poor financial results. Yet this is often not the case, it seems frequently following purpose leads to better financial results.

This has often been the case for Patagonia, and other organizations like them. There are numerous more examples where Patagonia’s purpose driven decision making has resulted in them both improving the environment as well as getting great financial results. When Patagonia decided to ditch heavy polluting plastic packaging for there thermal underwear they reduced garbage by 12 tons a year and benefited from a $150,000 in reduced cost. Sales also went up the first year by 25%, as customers could feel the material and appreciate the quality. Also the underwear had to look more like regular clothing since it was out on display, which had the interesting side effect of people wearing it like regular clothing, which further helped sales.

Buurtzorg

Established 13 years ago, Buurtzorg is Dutch home care organization that has pioneered a nurse-led, holistic care model that revolutionized community care in the Netherlands. When I think of what it means for an organization to be made of a network of self-organizing teams whose people are accountable and empowered to achieve organizational purpose, I think of Buurtzorg before many of the typical tech product companies we hear about so often.

During the 90s, neighborhood based nursing, a facet of Dutch life since the 19th century, had been going through a series of consolidations and mergers. Nursing went from individual providers, to smaller organizations, to larger enterprises. The classical factory efficiency mindset followed suite. Finishing tasks quickly, seeing more patients a day, maximum time allowances, you get the idea. The result, as I am sure you can guess was a very poor patient experience, frustrated nurses, and lowered medical outcomes. When patients and providers are treated like machines, the human connection is lost and people suffer. Nurse felt degraded, patients, often elderly were confused as to what they were taking and why, everyone was in a rush, which created mistakes, which kept everyone in a rush.

Jos de Block, a manager within a large nursing organization with 10 years experience as a nurse, had had enough, he and a group of like minded nurses decided to form their own organization. One that would employ an entirely different paradigm, based on purpose driven, self managed teams. Jos formed the company not only out of a sense of frustration with the way neighborhood nursing companies had devolved into mechanical factory like entitles, but to help nurses achieve a higher purpose than simply providing medication to patients. Their purpose would be to “help people have rich, meaningful, and autonomous lives, to whatever degree is possible”.

This shift towards purpose has had some compelling effects. Nurses became empowered to establish deeper relationships with their patients. They took the time to understand each individual patient, what their needs for a healthy living were. They go to know who could be a part of their support network, and what else they needed to attain wholeness. In one case a nurse noticed a very proud older patient was not seeing visitors. The patient was embarrassed about her sickly appearance. The solution was to arrange a home visit from a hairdresser. This type of deep understanding and problem solving was not possible in the old regime of bureaucracy and management by numbers.

This focus on deep nurse to patient engagement led to another interesting outcome, greater patient autonomy. Again, Buurtzorg’s goal isn’t to provide more medical treatment, it’s to help patients recover the ability to take care of themselves as much as humanly possible. This goal is about making themselves redundant, not to grow endlessly. When decisions are made toward this purpose, they often appear to fly in the face of organizational growth or efficiency. The results? Patients who are thrilled with their nurses. Nurses who work with a sense of meaning. A nice consequence is that the growth of Buurtzorg has been staggering. That original team of 10 nurses? They are now a network of teams that number more than 10,000 across 25 countries. Nursing costs per patients are down 40%, patient outcomes are dramatically improved.

But Jos doesn’t stop there, to achieve his mission he teaches his competitors how to organize forward to a purpose driven, empowered and trusted model, and Jos doesn’t charge to do it. He wrote a book explaining Buurtzorg’s method and he sent a copy to all his competitors. Jos does these things because the purpose of his organization is to help patients live a more healthy, autonomous and meaningful life.

Buurtzorg and Patagonia are just two examples of Purpose Driven Organizations, but they are great ones. When organization make decisions based on their strong purpose is it hard to think that outcome would be anything other than sustainable growth for that organization. But when an organization’s decision making is not grounded in strong purpose, what is the driving factor? What are decisions based on? What grounds organizational behavior?

Stay tuned for my next post.

Like this post? This and more will be included in my (currently very much draft) book, Organize Forward

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