5 Key Questions to Help Reveal Organisational Purpose

“Purpose is the underpinning and overriding reason an enterprise exists. As such it unifies its people and guides all its actions.” (Nikos Mourkogiannis, Author of Purpose: The Starting of Great Companies)

There is nothing more powerful to direct focused attention within an organisation than clearly articulated Purpose, but identifying what this might be is not a simple task. Many organisations confuse their Vision with their Mission, and their Mission with their Purpose. They concentrate on WHAT they do, instead of WHY they exist.

Purpose is the Why, not the What or the How. What (Vision and Mission) and How (Values and Strategies) are secondary to Why (Purpose).

Purpose is difficult to identify, but when it is, that Purpose unleashes a cascade of thinking and behaviour that simultaneously transforms and unifies an enterprise.

Here are 5 Key Questions that purposeful leaders use to begin the process of revealing Purpose - the WHY of your organisation’s existence.

1. What are you seeking to change in the world?

Teams gather around ideas that will change things. The question is though, how will that change make the world a better place? Purpose is linked to great ideas which have a positive impact.

Your Action Plan: Dialogue with your teams about what they believe to be the ‘great need’ they seek to satisfy in the world through their work. What wrong are they working to make right? What human advancement are they working for?

2. When did you make a real difference to a client?

What was your client’s problem and how did you solve it? How did they feel and for that matter how did you feel? In the answer to this question lies the emotion of where your Purpose will be found.

Your Action Plan: Dialogue with your teams to review standout client successes. Delve into the emotions around those highly satisfied clients; invite the clients to share them with you. Build a picture of the meaning of your results for them.

3. What do clients value most about what you do for them?

It is strange how often clients focus on areas of real benefit of which you were unaware. Knowing how your clients feel about your best work will often bring real clarity to discovering your Purpose.

Your Action Plan: Dialogue with your clients to understand the benefits that you are delivering for them. Listen carefully for the unexpected revelations.

4. What would the industry lose if your organisation closed?

Asking a question as direct as imagining the closure of your organisation, will often yield surprising insights. It sharpens the focus on what makes you distinctive, and Purpose is linked to that.

Your Action Plan: Dialogue with your teams about the ‘gap’ that would be left if your organisation was no longer there. Think about your competitors who may act to fill the gap – what is it about your offer that would make that difficult for your competitors?

5. What type of legacy do you want to leave behind?

Legacy is a powerful concept. It helps people to think well beyond their involvement to the guardianship of those ideas in the future. A sense of legacy larger than yourself will give shape to Purpose.

Your Action Plan: Dialogue with your teams about how history will view you after you have gone. Will you have left an enduring mark? Will you have made a difference?

This document has been authored by Roger Lewis, an ODI specialist in Authentic Purpose.

You may need some help with some of these actions. We have the experts and experience to support you. Contact Kyran or Nicky on info@odi.org.nz or 03 943 2373