Be an organization with PURPOSE that lives by its PRINCIPLES

Just as an action misaligned with our personal values, leads to disaster, a strategic decision that doesn’t align with the organization's values is sure to fail and even lead to disaster.

Johann Botha
7 min readJun 10, 2021

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“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I suppose one can say that the VALUES of the collective that is the organization (call it corporate culture if you will), these values provide the context in which the organization — through its leadership- discovers and defines the WHY of the organization.

We call the superordinate WHY of the organization its PURPOSE.

A well-defined PURPOSE that is understood by all in the organization is the first step to not failing!

Having a PURPOSE is having a north star, you cannot get lost if you follow it!

Organizations too often in the past used value, vision, and mission statements as marketing and sales gimmicks. Cheap tricks to get people buying our stuff! They are lipservice to what we think people want to hear, in most instances, they are just lies!

It reminds me of a line years ago in an article in Fortune magazine about meaningless value statements on corporate reception walls that are just organizational platitudes.

“There’s a technical term for statements that look good on a wall but don’t add value to the business. The term is “bullshit,” and even an MBA can smell it.” Tom Stewart (Fortune Mag. July 8, 1996)

We propose an alternative, an honest alternative that can make a difference is done right.

The alternative we propose (here we borrowed some ideas from the Singularity University) is a strategic cascade leading from VALUES, PRINCIPLES, PURPOSE, to CAUSE/s, AIMS (or goals) and objectives, rather than the traditional vision, mission, goals approach.

Note that these are not just new words for old concepts — they are at their core materially different.

Values, Principles, the organization’s PURPOSE, CAUSES, and AIMS need to be understood by everyone in the organization to know why they are there (and how they make a difference).

“Honesty is a principle. Service is a principle. Love is a principle. Hard work is a principle. Respect, gratitude, moderation, fairness, integrity, loyalty, and responsibility are principles. There are dozens and dozens more. They are not hard to identify. Just as a compass always points to true north, your heart will recognize true principles.” Sean Covey

We propose that organizations codify their VALUES as fundamental organizational PRINCIPLES, which acts as the checks or references for every decision and action in the organization.

Understanding our values and codifying our values as principles, enables us to answer WHY THE ORGANIZATION EXIST, this is our PURPOSE>

DO NOT USE THESE ‘STATEMENTS’ (purpose, causes, aims, values, and principles) in your marketing and sales bumf. Fervently resist the urge and stop that from happing — EVER!

The sales and marketing gurus will say — but these succinctly describe who we are, and customers should know that.

Our response is this: if your customers don’t know it without you telling it to them, telling them will not make any difference! Quite frankly, it smells!

Get over it — using these artifacts in this way is sacrilege (you will see why we believe this is a wrong choice in the following few sentences).

When you talk about something that is values-based, the basic premise is, don’t tell me — show me.

Don’t tell me you care, show me you care — the reason we wrote it down is to make sure that everyone that needs to show customers we care understands that we do, and by extension when they deal with customers, they should also.

These statements (and the actions flowing from them) are about the organization's heart and soul and intended as inspirational and aspirational; they give direction to people IN the organization and shape behavior IN the organization. Anyone outside of the organization should only see and experience the results!

If you use them wrong, it will be like selling the organization's soul, and the moment you do that, these statements lose ALL effectiveness as glue internal to the organization and something that drives behavior.

PURPOSE STATEMENT

When defining the PURPOSE of the organization, it needs to be meaningful; some even say it needs to be noble or even massively transformative (Singularity University). Whichever viewpoint you hold, it needs to be meaningful in two ways;

It needs to reflect at least some aspect of the aspirations of the collective we call an organization, something that everyone believes in and that will unite the organization behind supporting its aims, cause, or causes.

Secondly, it needs to be ambitious but unambiguous and straightforward!

Here are some examples of great purpose statements even though the organizations that defined them may call them something else:

Organize the world’s information — Google

To inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically, and release their potential to shape their own future — Lego

Music for everyone — Spotify

Ideas worth spreading — TEDx

Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy — Tesla

Social Coding — Github

The world’s catalog of ideas — Pinterest

Meaningful innovation everywhere, by everyone! — ADapT.

Also, bear in mind that you should in the future test every organizational initiative against how it stacks up against and support our PURPOSE and PRINCIPLES!

Your PURPOSE & PRINCIPLES are your organization's EVERYTHING!

Your strategy should aim to spot what keeps your organization from completely, entirely, whole-heartedly, and utterly fulfilling your PURPOSE and identifying how to plug the gaps or change what you do to get the job done.

Defining your strategy should be done with conviction, passion, commitment, and belief in the PURPOSE of the organization.

Have you ever wondered why so many large organization within inordinate amounts of resources often gets their strategy so wrong? Then the next company, which seems to fly by the seat of their pants, gets it right, more often than not.

The answer is this one thing detailed analysis does not equate to understanding. Hard work, and diligence, can and will never replace — a passion for what you do because you believe in it!

We also think that there is maybe a second thing rooted in lean and agile philosophy. No one person or even a small group of people will ever understand enough to plan and create the future — we can only do that as a collective that is the organization, where everyone has a part to play.

A strategy is about seeing where you are while understanding who you (the organization) are, and what you are here to do, and for whom.

A strategy is about dreaming the future — call it envisioning if you like — however you see it, it is aspirational. Your strategy needs to inspire people in the organization to make it a reality. You can’t do that without giving them purpose.

If you do this well, you cannot but win.

If you spend your time analyzing markets, competitors, products, customers, profit margins, engineering ratios, etc., no amount of data will help you BE the company that makes the difference.

Remember, we are not saying that you should not analyze markets, competitors, products, customers, profit margins, engineering ratios, etc.; you have to — all we are saying that it’s not enough.

The reason organization and organisms have the same root is not incidental; they both have a life of their own.

“Principled leaders are those who articulate their values, make decisions guided by their values, and consistently live their values in a transparent manner, all while clearly adhering to the ethical codes and standards of their environment….. the business world is changing at a pace never seen before, and change demands action based on ethics, insight, and understanding — that’s what principled leadership is all about” Sarah Mangia — Ohio State University

Clinical management may work in good times, but we need inspirational and principled leaders to get us there in tough times!

If PURPOSE drives strategy, WHAT do you need to do?

Your strategy should identify gaps between your current reality and what you should be doing to fulfill your purpose; remember this is high-level, not a detailed description of the actions needed.

You should also evaluate everything you are currently doing and question HOW that contributes to your purpose. It’s an easy way to identify things that you must stop doing or businesses, markets, or products from which you should divest.

You (the executives) must be able to tell the rest of the organization — here are the gaps, go and make something, or find something that will fill the gap, or improve what we have to fill the gaps, but just as importantly — here are things that are so clearly out of place that they just don’t fit. WHAT are we going to do with or about that?

The easy answer is to stop doing it, but it’s most probably not the smartest choice.

Maybe some of the current employees are super passionate about that aspect of the business; they can perhaps define a purpose where that product or service or technology or activity fits perfectly. If you see they are passionate about it, see how you can help them make a difference with that; maybe it’s the beginning of something exciting and new, fund them, help them, spin it off!

If you can find people like that, start looking for a buyer.

Here’s the problematic part — even if it substantially contributes to your bottom-line — if it detracts from your purpose — you should not be doing it!

It will sap the lifeblood out of your organization and stop you from doing what is meaningful and right.

If it is a substantial part of the business, you could most probably find a suitable buyer, willing to pay top-dollar for it. Win-win.

Once you have a PURPOSE, you need to focus!

This article is part of a series exploring the use of Agile ADapT™, a Digital Transformation Method for incumbent organizations struggling to compete in the digital age.

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Johann Botha

Johann Botha, a digital change provocateur & getITright® CEO. Transform & build organizational agility, & digital-age capabilities. Consultant, speaker & author