What’s purpose for?

abstract purposeI’ve been working with KPMG around trust – as the critical currency for organisations to be successful and thrive in the future. The thinking here is that in our connected world, it is no longer feasible to focus on one or two key stakeholders – connectivity means that there are many different stakeholders and to grow means working effectively with all of them. For some, financial performance (to my mind the traditional metric of success with stakeholders) is still key – but looked at collectively it is too narrow, hence the broader currency of trust. Trust being built in many different ways, and top line growth/profitability just one of those routes.  Indeed, some of the complexity lies in the fact that the alternative ways of delivering trust do not appear to be on the face of it to be compatible with one another. Digging deeper, routes to success lie in achieving that compatibility and reconciling the alternatives (potentially over time even if not simultaneously).

But from that premise, I’ve been musing on where connectivity requires broader definitions elsewhere. And so, I’ve been thinking about strategy.  Strategy seems to me to be a somewhat thankless task in these VUCA times. To go deeply enough into a medium term strategy has traditionally taken time and resource – but that time means that the completed strategy is often at risk of being superseded by events or by disruptive elements in the sector. That is the thinking behind Shaping Tomorrow which I’ve mentioned before – to have an automated process for as much of strategic planning as possible to make the creation of strategy a rapid, and hence if need be frequent, event. Or there is the Google approach – review strategic priorities every 90 days (bearing in mind that Alphabet and Google may now have different approaches to this).

I’ve also been working closely with Blueprint for Better Business and thinking about purpose – to my mind a much misunderstood and overused term in the business world. The various challenges around strategy led me to wonder whether, like performance, this now requires something broader – and whether in reality the framework for organisations to thrive is now purpose. Strategy then becomes (like performance) one demonstration or lens on the wider purpose (ie like performance it is not redundant, but now part of a menu).

Going beyond strategy, purpose sets the boundaries for innovation but does not constrain ideas and insights to the purely incremental or business as usual (which is often the practical reality of strategy as communicated, even if not the intent). Purpose can inspire and motivate people and communities, and hence foster self management and decentralised decision making within an aligned and coherent whole. Purpose can align partners and networks around a common goal or achievement, even where the agendas of the players are different.

And to come back to the thinking on trust, purpose which is key to reconciling the engagement of, and building trust with, multiple stakeholders.

Author: macinn2013

Comments in my blog represent my personal views not those of my current or previous employers but are inevitably influenced by my working life, past and present colleagues, friends and family - such is life!

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