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Vision and mission may have gone out of fashion but purpose is more important than ever. The question is: How can leaders make purpose meaningful enough to rally teams around key projects and priorities.
Bye Bye Mission & Vision
Business Management is prone to fads and fashion. At one time certain things are ‘hot' and then suddenly they are not. The corporate mission or vision statement is a good example.
Two decades ago, almost every organization (90%) had a mission or vision statement, today the figure is under 40%, according to Bane Data(1).
There is an apparent irony in this fashion trend: While the popularity of mission and vision are at an all-time low, the importance placed on purpose and passion has never been higher.
Many leaders will argue that the typical vision or mission statement was too ‘vague’ and ‘meaningless’ to connect to purpose, passion or even motivation.
Today, however purpose is center stage.
What is purpose?
What is purpose? Well, it is the answer to the ‘Why?’ question. The ‘why’ of an organization and its people.
It is unlikely that a description of what your organization, business unit or team does is enough to define its purpose. Purpose goes deeper, asking more fundamental questions (2), such as:
- Why does it exist?
- Why does it matter?
- What gives it’s work meaning?
- Who it serves and why?
While these questions seem straight-forward, they are not easily answered. Defining purpose and all that goes with it can be difficult. Passion, purpose, meaning, etc. these are no easy matter.
Answering the “Why?’ Question
Traditionally the answer to the “why?” question was both simple and straight-forward. Why do we strive every day to build a business, serve our customers, launch new products and so on? The principal motivation was believed to be money and related rewards.
Today, we know that money is not the only motivator, it may not even be the most powerful. We have known that for more than 70 years – that is as old as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
Linking Purpose & Motivation
Traditionally organizations have focused on the bottom of Maslo’s hierarchy and the power of monetary rewards, job titles and so on. That is changing fast, however.
Today, we know that there are two forms of motivation:
- Extrinsic motivation refers to external motivation by traditional rewards such as money or perks.
- Intrinsic motivation comes from within rather than without – it is derived from what is important to us – purpose, meaning, growth, etc.
Daniel Pink sums up the research nicely when he says: ‘We're intrinsically motivated purpose maximisers, not only extrinsically motivated profit maximisers.’ Indeed, when it comes to motivation some suggest that purpose could be ‘the ultimate carrot'.
Leaders are increasingly aware of the power of intrinsic motivation and the potential power of purpose. But of, course, purpose could be vague and meaningless too. It could sound like a mission or vision statement under another name.
How do you know if you have a purpose that works – one that motivates. Well, the test is: Will it rally your team for the next few laps? That is for the next 3, 6 or 9 months. If it does, then it is what we call ‘FIT for PURPOSE’.
Fit for Purpose
To be ‘Fit for Purpose’ (FFP) a team’s definition of its purpose must be real, as opposed to abstract. That means it is tied to a specific project, priority or team – spread over too many people and too many initiatives it can be come generic and bland.
Traditionally, mission and Vision were set at the top of the organization and communicated downwards. Purpose, if it is going to work – to be fit for purpose – cannot be handed down. You cannot tell people what their purpose is and expect them to be motivated by it. They must craft it for themselves – if it is to have meaning. So, a first step in crafting a purpose that is ‘fit for purpose’ is to get people to dialog what matters most to them.
Rallying the team for the next few laps means balancing the need for clarity with the quest for meaning. It is about making purpose ‘more pointed’ – thereby providing a practical guide to execution. This is essential in a time of turbulence and uncertainty.
A FFP purpose balances ‘a quest for meaning’ with the more practical ‘quest for clarity’ and it does this through a process of dialogue on results, priorities and purpose as seen from different perspectives within a team.
We need clarity and focus as much as we need meaning or inspiration. We need to focus on the journey as much as the destination. So, while you search for your true north – the ultimate source of meaning and inspiration – start first with a purpose that will work for you in the short to medium term.
A FFP purpose may not change your life or transform your industry, but it can rally people together to do what needs to be done. That is to deliver on the results that are required, while also progressing your business units/team’s key strategic priorities.
Sometimes the FFP Purpose will align exactly with your own deeper purpose, other times it won’t. Sometimes it will unlock your full potential – get you jumping out of bed and other times it won’t. But at least it should give you clarity and focus as a team in doing what needs to be done.
Purpose is Dynamic
In today’s work environment people are working on multiple projects, priorities and teams at any one time. There are initiatives starting and finishing all the time, being replaced, or superseded by others. A FFP Purpose gives people the clarity and focus that they need now – that is required to deliver on what matters most at this time.
Being fit for purpose (FFP) recognizes that ‘Purpose’ can change, it will change, it must change. It may have a short shelf life but that makes it nonetheless meaningful. In these fast-changing times, priorities will change, so too will customer needs and competitor strategies.
The process of keeping Purpose alive – keeping it current and real should be an ongoing one. It is the essence of modern leadership.
Here is a quick recap on a FFP Purpose:
- It doesn’t take months to formulate.
- It balances what needs to be done with the quest for meaning.
- It integrates purpose with results and priorities.
- It is practical, grounded and actionable.
- It is tied to a specific project, priority or team (spread over too many people and too many initiatives it can be come generic and bland).
(1) See Bane analysis of Mission & Vision's popularity here: https://www.bain.com/insights/management-tools-mission-and-vision-statements
(2) Here are some other questions to help you in defining the ‘Why' for your project or team:
- Factors to consider in defining the purpose of your team:
- Why does the project/team exist?
- Why does it matter? What gives it meaning?
- What makes us special? Sets us apart?
- Who do we serve? Why? How?
- What value do we create? What good do we do?
- What key project or initiative must we deliver?
- What’s in it for us (as team members)?
- Why do we want to belong to this team?
- What are we most proud of?
- What does the team want to be known for/as?
- What are the shared passions of its members?
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