For many years I’ve been uncomfortable with organisations trying to craft the perfect purpose and vision statements as the first step in their strategy process. Especially when done in a relatively quick session without first spending time to understand the major external insights that will impact the organisation both now and into the future
Some boards and executive teams want to quickly ‘get on with’ landing on or updating their purpose and vision to drive the organisation’s strategy forward. I get it.
Although this is done with good intention, if an organisation doesn’t first get a direct picture of the external environment and the major potential changes and opportunities in which they operate, purpose and vision can become hollow statements that are not grounded in the real world.
Purpose and vision – practical definitions
In my experience, purpose and vision are often misinterpreted and sometimes incorrectly mashed together as meaning the same thing. So, let’s first get clear on some short and practical definitions of what they mean and the relationship between them, outside typical management speak:
- The fundamental reason of Why the organisation exists.
- Purpose is about the core value and impact the organisation wants to have.
- Where the organisation aspires to be in the future. Vision acts as a source of inspiration to strive towards.
- What the future will look like if the organisation delivers its purpose.
With these definitions in mind, it’s obvious how important each is to get right. It also highlights how these statements paint an accurate picture of the essence of an organisation in relation to the impact it will have. If the purpose and vision aren’t relatable or fail to effectively articulate (and inspire) how the organisation will make a meaningful difference within the broader community or market / ecosystem that it operates in – they can easily distract or even confuse both staff and external clients.
A missing piece of the puzzle
Often, I come across organisation purpose and vision that don’t seem to have a whole lot of relevance to the distinct value the organisation really brings or why it exists. Some seem to have been created by a leadership team focusing on what they themselves wanted to achieve personally and what they want to stand by. Although these aspects are relevant, they miss the critical piece of the puzzle.
Purpose, and then subsequently vision, need to be based on a critical ingredient:
Purpose and vision are about ‘bringing the outside world in’
When purpose and vision are looked at as a process of bringing the outside world into the organisation and distilling meaning from that relationship, it changes the whole perspective.
Uncovering the power of purpose
If you’ve heard me talk about Strategy Discovery vs Strategy Development, a concept that was pioneered by Dr Graham Kenny and articulated further in his recent book, you’ll have a sense of what I mean when I say that purpose and vision are best ‘discovered’ through a process that brings the outside world in as opposed to just being created.
Alongside that, a well-known name in the purpose space, Ross Hastings, paints a helpful picture – “Purpose needs to be clarified, not created” in our recent podcast conversation on the topic.
To effectively discover or clarify purpose and vision, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our end clients and community and consider the major external factors and problems our organisation will help solve.
Leaders should be asking questions like:
- What are the most impactful problems we can be solving for our clients and community?
- What are the most significant industry factors that will have a long-term influence that we need to keep front of mind?
This is not about flip-flopping around from one major trend to the next. It’s about spending the time to clarify the biggest inflection points and insights that will be major factors for our clients and communities in which we exist. Then to have these front and centre to bring our purpose and vision to life.
Purpose & vision in a modern strategy process
Instead of starting your strategy process by trying to ‘create’ beautiful purpose and vision statements, spend some dedicated time to discover and capture insights that challenge or qualify existing strategic assumptions or reasons the organisation might exist.
In a strategy context, start to get some unique external perspectives from a mix of clients, industry partners, suppliers on the most significant market factors and problems they’re trying to solve. Our Qualitative Customer Conversations (QCCs) insight-gathering approach is a helpful reference to use.
Through a Modern Strategy Methodology, you will start to form a clear picture of what your overriding purpose and vision need to be. It might end up that your existing statements aren’t too far off the mark. Or it might mean they evolve into new and clear statements that will set your organisation apart.
Bring your organisation’s purpose and vision to life
As head of Foundstone Advisory, a specialist strategy consultancy, we partner with organisations across the Healthcare (Disability and Mental Health), NFP, Social Enterprise and Education sectors. We’re passionate about ensuring our client’s purpose and vision are grounded in solving the most relevant industry problems, backed by sustainable revenue streams.
Relevance and stability enable our client’s purpose and vision to be delivered. Read more about our Modern Strategy Methodology to see how it can help grow your organisation.
How meaningful and helpful is your organisation’s current purpose and vision? Are you confident that they are grounded in the external conditions in which you operate?
Book in a free strategy check in call with me right here