From Adrift to Driven: Finding Your Organization’s Purpose

Last week, I discussed how to determine whether or not your organization has a strong sense of purpose. So what happens next—what do you do if you’ve realized that purpose is one area where your organization is lacking?

There’s no easy solution to this problem, which is why I recommend seeking the help of an executive coach. But there are some ways of attempting to develop purpose that are definitely not useful, and can actually set your organization back by creating the illusion that purpose has been established. These mistakes include:

• Formulating documents, like mission statements, instead of doing the deep work required to articulate a clearly defined purpose
• Taking surface-level measures to “inspire” employees without ensuring that the systems, processes, practices and behavior of executives back up these messages
• Replacing a true organizational narrative with empty words and lists of accomplishments rather than a meaningful history
• Asking employees to take part in meaning-building activities without sincere engagement from upper management
• Viewing community engagement as an obligation rather a privilege

Many of us have led or engaged in these types of activities before. If some of these mistakes sound familiar, or if you’re currently working in a purposeless organization, it’s time to take action.

A good way to start is by asking “why?” questions. In a purpose-driven organization, the answers to “why?” questions should connect back to the company’s reason for being. In an organization without purpose, these kinds of questions often lead to dead ends. For example, if the answer to the question “why do we file our paperwork with this particular system rather than some more efficient way?” is something along the lines of “because it’s always been done that way” or “because so-and-so wants it that way,” that’s a bad sign.

In a purpose-driven organization, employees at all levels, especially those in leadership positions, hold themselves accountable for maintaining, developing and articulating that purpose. These workplaces tend to be more fulfilling precisely because they supply more than a monthly paycheck; they provide psychological and sometimes even spiritual fulfillment.

Are you struggling to find your organization’s purpose? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me via my website, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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