I use the word re-inventing because you may already have some sort of formal vision and/or mission statement. The questions is: Are these current statements or tenants really serving their purpose? If not, then the aim now is for you to hopefully find inventive ways to engage your employees in deep dialogue, connecting individual values, and developing a joint sense of purpose.
Before beginning, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes surrounding purpose.
When the organization has a clear sense of its purpose, direction, and desired future state and when this image is widely shared, individuals are able to find their roles both in the organization and in the larger society of which they are a part. This empowers individuals and confers status upon them because they can see themselves as a part of a worthwhile enterprise. They gain a sense of importance, as they are transformed from robots blindly following instructions to human beings engaged in a creative purposeful venture. (Bennis & Nanus, 2005, pp. 53-84)
How does one truly create a clear sense of purpose and direction in our organization? When Bennis and Nanus stated, “. . . transformed from robots. . . to human beings engaged in a creative purposeful venture,” what thoughts came to mind? I immediately considered creating commitment rather than compliance. With that said, purpose is so much more than just simple statements—e.g., vision and mission. In fact, I believe that the process of bringing everyone together to explore purpose is much more valuable than the actual statements that may appear.
Although much of the past and present literature stress the importance of organizational purpose, few provide specific activities for finding that purpose. In my book, Strong Schools, Strong Leaders, I spend some time talking about the fostering of a combined purpose. The focal point of one particular chapter centers on forming a shared purpose by tapping into the individual values and beliefs of each and every employee. This is followed by another chapter that outlines a practical, hands-on workshop to do just that.
Both chapters refer to my framework titled, Co-Creating Purpose: A Step-by-Step Process. Generally speaking, the model contains three steps that support the emergence of collective purpose. The first step in the model encourages employees to explore their personal purposes. Finding each employee’s individual purpose is a stepping-stone toward a collective organizational purpose. The second recognizes common themes, goals, and values among the employees. Third, the leader has to encapsulate those relationships into a single overarching purpose. All of this rests on the idea: “to co-create means to form together.”
I believe that inspiring others to explore their own purposes and translating them into overarching ideals is one of the most important and daunting tasks as a leader.
In the previous post, Rethinking your own leadership, I offered two great books.
- The Change Handbook by Holman by Devane and Cady (2007). Sixty-one different change methods are offered and written by the originators and leading practitioners in the field.
- The Practical Decision Maker by Harvey et. al. (2001). This resource includes fifty-four different structuring devices for problem solving with your people.
I urge you to use both resources (as well as others) to find a way to engage your employees in recognizing their own personal values, beliefs, and goals. Try to understand where they are “coming from,” where they are presently, and where they want to go. By allocating time to listen and to value each employee’s dreams and aspirations, you can tap into some powerful passions in both their personal and professional lives. Remember to not forget about you own personal aspirations and dreams.
A few helpful processes included in the above-mentioned books may include Playback Theater, Appreciative Inquiry, Visual Explorer, SOAR, Study Circles, and so on. I urge you to check them out.
A lack of individual purpose is a call for concern, and timely action can create new opportunities to recover lost meaning. As soon as you begin to express interest in the ways your employees view their own purpose, a perceptible shift emerges. Suddenly, you will see your employees feeling more valued and respected.
Now that you and your employees are more familiar with your own personal ideals then it’s time to unite them by finding the organizational core values. As you know, this requires strategic initiatives to take dialogue to a higher plane for the individual and joint goals of stakeholders rather than shelving output in the hope of revisiting it sometime later.
Here is a section of the Co-Creating Purpose: A Step-by-Step Process model that might help you in the above activities.
Each circle represents your employee’s life purposes; however, each individual purpose is separate from the other. On the surface, there may be no common features. Remember, nothing is wrong with diversity. Activities connecting individual vision-oriented purposes should lead to a set of core values, which the organization adopts. Finally, the shared purpose links each individual purpose through those core values of the organization.
Just an idea
Right now I am working with my employees on re-inventing our own organizational purpose. Here is a little background. A couple of years ago I brought together nearly 1,500 stakeholders and employed a version of the Appreciative Inquiry method. In the end we were able to create multiple values statements and each employee committed to a fresh, new vision. Thus far, these “statements” and vision have both served as guideposts in our planning, as well as day-to-day operations. With the passing of time, along with the hiring of new employees, I felt it was necessary to revisit our purpose.
To do this I am adapting the Visual Explorer approach and attempting to use symbolism (e.g., pictures and thoughts) to represent emergent themes between each employee’s individual purpose. Like the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Think about the possibilities: Finding meaning through vivid, emotion-provoking pictures. Not only can these pictures represent the values, beliefs, and goals of the organization; but each employee can also translate their own aspirations and dreams with each picture. If you would like to hear more on the progress of this challenge, please contact me.
Don’t rush it though. As I mentioned earlier (and I cannot stress this enough), the process of bringing employees together to explore purpose is much more valuable than the eloquence of a vision and mission statement on a piece of paper.
Activities in a nutshell
- Find and facilitate processes that lead to in-depth dialogue so that your employees can begin to recognize their own ideals.
- Find and facilitate processes that compel your employees to recognize themes that emerge from everyone’s personal ideals—resulting in a shared purpose.
Questions for you.
Please take the time to add any additional thoughts, ideas, or processes in the comment box. How have you created a strong sense of purpose in your organization? Is it rooted in personal experiences, stories, and dreams?
Perry Wiseman, author, Strong Schools, Strong Leaders: What matter most in times of change