Purpose and Strategy: Two by Two

Purpose and strategy. They seem to fit like peanut butter and jelly. Purpose is the jelly, sweetening our appetites for the work to be done. Strategy is the peanut butter, making it all stick together as we do the work.

Even with this thought, leaders lose their desire to define an organizational strategy in terms of a greater purpose. It sounds too lofty, too qualitative. People may snicker or scoff at the very thought of discussing purpose when it comes to develop a strategy.

It is unfortunate because purpose and strategy belong together.

A Two by Two Perspective

For those who know me, you frequently see a two by two matrix in some of my articles. It is a great way to break things down and gain perspective. In this case, it highlights what happens when one is missing and when both are well-defined.

Let’s dive in.

Mired. With an undefined purpose and strategy, there is no question about where organizations and people within them stand; they are mired. There is no light ahead; there is no path defined. It is being stuck knee deep, and people are highly frustrated. It is time to define a purpose and a strategy to move  forward.

Unmotivated Direction. Most organizations are likely here. They have a strategy but their purpose is undefined. People may have a sense of purpose in their work, as having a defined direction delivers a practical value by itself. However, the higher calling of the organization is likely viewed differently, or not at all. Team members, customers, partners, and other stakeholders may have a mixed view of what the organization’s purpose really is.

What do I mean by purpose? Simply stated, it is the larger impact, the real affect, the real driver of why the work is done.

Take Whole Foods. Some may just look at it as a grocery store, a place to showcase organic foods for people to purchase. However, it is more than this. Their purposeful focus is on “whole foods, whole people, whole planet.” This is a broader statement, and it empowers many aspects of Whole Foods from their people policies to food selection policies to global practices. This engages the organization and their stakeholders more fully and delivers a higher purpose in why they work there, why people shop there, and why people buy their stock.

Motivated Unproductivity. Moving up to the Purpose row, we first enter the quadrant where there is a clear purpose for an organization yet the strategy is missing. While people may be energized by the purpose, this will began to fade quickly as progress forward is scattered, inconsistent, and unplanned. Purpose without momentum leads to frustration and attrition.

Inspired Alignment. When purpose and strategy come together in a tight fit, inspired work happens. There is a reason for the work is being done, and it is larger in mission than just completing a task. Tasks turn into results; results turn into momentum; and momentum moves an organization to realize a greater purpose in the marketplace. There is a rhythm to the work and a reason for the strategy.

Remember this: Purpose delivers a rhythm to the work and a reason for the strategy!

Inspired alignment is the complete opposite of drudgery in work and disconnection in approach. There is a lift in the step of people involved. The path ahead will likely contain challenges but there is a reason to overcome them.

Real Organizations Have Purpose

Purpose is not fluff. It is the content of our strategy’s character. It is what makes organizations strong because it inspires people to engage in their work and achieve meaning in what they do. Purpose defines the personality and story of an organization and, in turn, the policies and processes that flow from it.

Key points:

  • Don’t be afraid. Engage in strategic conversations on what your organization’s purpose is.
  • Purpose is a necessary element of any worthwhile strategy. Define it. Communicate it. Act on it in all you do.
  • Rise up to the challenge of purpose. The Millennial Generation expects it and everyone before and after will embrace it.

Does your strategy have purpose? What is the result – either way?


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