Your Organization’s Purpose is Not Up for Vote

The Revelation ConversationI recently read another article that counseled leaders to seek input through surveys and focus groups to ensure that the resulting organizational purpose statement is inclusive of the feedback and priorities of current and prospective employees, customers, vendor partners, investors, and other stakeholders.

This is really bad advice.

Articulating organizational purpose has nothing to do with building consensus. Most business leaders understand the danger of consensus driven decision-making when it comes to strategy and finances, but some are oblivious to the problems with inviting “current and prospective employees, customers, vendor partners, investors, and other stakeholders” to establish the organization’s mission, vision, or purpose statement and core values. This is nonsense. It’s a bit like asking a friend or colleague for feedback on what your life purpose should be.

Instead, organizational leaders need to articulate mission, vision, purpose, core values, in addition to setting direction, strategy, and financial policy. Most leaders at established organizations inherit aspirational statements and corporate ideals that have been long established by generations of leadership that came before them. These statements, in many cases, reflect the origin story of the company and the principles of its founder(s). So, even as an organization evolves, it’s unlikely that its raison d’être—its reason for being—will change.

When these statements either do not exist or have become outmoded or stagnant and need to be revisited, it’s important to address the following questions:

  1. What is our purpose at work?
  2. What values guide our actions and behaviors at work?
  3. What purposeful actions and behaviors do I exhibit at work?
  4. What is our team’s aspirational goal?

The biotech company, Grail, appears to have answered these answers. A quick peek at its website reveals its purpose: to detect cancer early, when it can be cured. It values innovation, cooperation, partnership, and good health. It manifests these values through actions and behaviors such as asking questions, inviting divergent views, recruiting partners in its effort, challenging the status quo, and taking calculated risks. These actions and behaviors result in pioneering new technologies for early cancer detection, constructing a multi-disciplinary organization of scientists, engineers, and physicians, and using leading edge technologies (including next-generation sequencing and state-of-the-art computer science and data science) to make progress toward its purpose and the team’s aspirational goal: to save lives.

Grail doesn’t need consensus from an array of stakeholder to determine its mission or solicit their consent to pursue it. What it needs (and has) is credible leadership that inspires the collective pursuit of a common aspirational goal.

Create an inspired workforce! Pre-order a copy of The Revelation Conversation: Inspire Greater Employee Engagement by Connecting to Purpose. Available in all formats on May 31, 2022.

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