Why Does Your Organisation or Team Exist? (i.e. What is its purpose?)

Posted on 11th July 2019

Many of us don’t bother asking or answering this question because we assume the answer is obvious. But you’d be surprised about the range of answers we get if we ask that question in an organisation – and yet it is the startpoint for the clarity about everything we do!

Let’s go back 60 years. What do you think the purpose of NASA (the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was in the early 1960s?

Was it:
(a) To put a person on the moon?
(b) To get to the moon before the Soviet Union?

Both answers are correct. But both have different meanings. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin , the Soviet cosmonaut has just got into space before the American astronaut Allan Shepard. The Americans were determined not to be beaten again.

So, the purpose (“the why”) of NASA was to re-establish the United States as the “top dog” in the world – to beat the Soviet Union. When we start with “the why”, it expands our thinking and our possibilities. When we start with “the what”, our thinking and our possibilities are already much more limited.

For example, the United States had many options as to how to beat the Soviet Union, of which the moon landing was only one. But through a process of strategising as to which one of their options would best fulfil their purpose, they established that the moon landing would be most effective.

This means that if we start with “the why” we are really getting to the heart of what our organisation (or our department) is really all about – why it exists. If we work together with our team to articulate “the why” of our organisation or department then that (a) makes us much better placed to determine the best “what” to make that happen and (b) returns us to the reason we are in this line of work – what we are really here to do. It is important stuff!

Have a look at this iconic video from 2009 from Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”…
 

Now, this is a great exercise to do with our teams, but we can start it off by ourselves first. To get to our why, we need to firstly think about these questions:

What do I believe in about the work we do in our organisation or department? Why is it so important to us?

This reflection should enable us to answer the big question that follows on from this. It is unlikely to involve our products or services – but more likely to involve the outcomes or results that those products or services deliver. It should not be a description of what we do in operational terms. Have a go….

As a result of those beliefs, this organisation or department exists to…. (complete the sentence)

Here is one that was devised by the MIS Manager of a further education college:
“The MIS Department exists to support college staff in helping every student achieve their potential, through the provision of accurate and timely and useful information to aid wise decision-making"

Who knew that MIS people helped students reach their potential!

We can go through the same process about our own job role.

Once we are clear about our purpose, we are in a position to gain clarity about the things that will deliver that purpose. Below you will find the Strategy Clarity Pyramid – again a great process to go through with your team.

You will see that, on the one hand, there a number of big questions that need to be answered but, on the other hand, we don’t need pages and pages of thick, wire-bound strategic documents to ensure that we are all clear. Indeed, many team members often complain that they can’t focus in on what’s important because they are drowned in pages of paper!
 

The key questions – in order – are:

1. Why do we exist (i.e. what is our purpose?)

OUR ARTICULATION OF WHAT WE ARE REALLY ABOUT, WHAT WE ARE REALLY HERE TO DO


2. What is our vision on the road to that purpose?

THIS SHOULD BE A SHORT TIMEBOUND AND MEASURABLE STATEMENT OF WHERE WE WILL BE IN 2-3 YEARS. ONE OF THE BEST OF THESE WAS BY U.S. PRESIDENT JOHN F KENNEDY ABOUT LANDING ON THE MOON. “WE WILL LAND ON THE MOON BEFORE THE DECADE IS OUT”


3. What are the strategic aims that will deliver the vision and purpose?

THESE ARE THE 5/6 STRATEGIC BUCKETS OF ACTIVITY (OR MINI VISIONS) THAT WILL BE THE KEY BUILDING BLOCKS TO DELIVERING THE VISION


4. What are the key success measures that will help deliver the vision and purpose?

THE 6-8 KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS (OR METRICS) THAT WILL HELP GUARANTEE DELIVERY OF THE STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES. EACH OBJECTIVE SHOULD HAVE ONE OR TWO KEY METRICS


5. How will we need to be in order to deliver the vision and purpose?

THE BEHAVIOURS THAT EACH MEMBER OF STAFF WILL NEED TO DEMONSTRATE EVERY DAY IN ORDER TO DELIVER THE STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES, THE VISION AND ULTIMATELY THE PURPOSE


You will notice below the pyramid, the reminder that everyone in the organisation or department needs to Know It, Believe It and Act On It – the Head, Heart and Hands of the Clarity Pyramid.

How clear are you right now about your answers to the questions in The Strategic Clarity Pyramid in relation to your own organisation or department? How clear would your team be? What do you need to do to gain greater strategic clarity?

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