The essence of the model we propose lies in the generation of a shared and common business purpose, one that pivots on a triad of knowledge, motivation, and action.Footnote 1 In other words, for a business purpose to be shared, it must be such that it illuminates the mind (knowledge), captivates the heart (motivation), and guides the daily work of the organization’s employees (action): illuminating, captivating, and guiding are the three elements that must characterize the business purpose so that it becomes internalized by all (Fig. 10.2).
However, it must be recalled that the generation of this shared purpose is a lengthy, continuous process and, at times, an unstable equilibrium.
It is a lengthy process because purpose is not something one should define from a top-down view and expect others to internalize immediately. All too often, organizations have a very well-defined purpose that is announced clearly and yet, at the same time, we often still encounter many within teams who hardly identify with it. Identification is a key word. Organizational purpose and the manner in which it is generated are quite important. The existence of sincere dialogue within the team achieves a climate of trust and helps people open up and share their individual purposes. This is vital in building common purpose—a purpose that comes to be shared by everyone.
But, how well do we know the individual purposes of the people who work in our organization? Do we provide them space, so that they can think about and define their individual purpose? Once done, do we respect and acknowledge that purpose? Do we create environments where people feel comfortable and share their purpose? And do managers lead the way by sharing their own purpose? Certainly, answering such questions requires significant time, not to mention enough serenity to even raise them. For this reason, the process takes time. Consider this “the cost.” The advantage? It is quite clear: as the organization invests time in the generation of shared purpose, the door will open for team members to identify with the purpose and assume it as their own, thereby increasing commitments throughout the organization.
Yet, it is important to remember that the creation and connection of purpose is a continuous process. Endless, one might say. There are at least two reasons for this: first, because circumstances change and just as the organization needs to continually adapt to the environment, the purpose must also adapt to these new circumstances. This is not to say that an organization’s purpose is like a weather vane. What it means, however, is that as the environment evolves, it will require that organizations adapt and revalidate to ensure that their purpose relates to new market demands. Second, shifts in personnel bring new staff to teams. With the integration of new team members, maintaining an ongoing dialogue becomes increasingly important so that purpose remains common and shared.
Finally, shared purpose, its creation and proliferation, can be an unstable equilibrium. This becomes most notable when trying to manage the balance between employees’ day-to-day requirements and their sense of purpose. Running the business from a genuine perspective of purpose requires a balance between the short and long view. The patience required for purpose and the pressure demanded by results drives a wedge that creates tension: if we focus only on the day-to-day routine, we distance ourselves from the purpose and if we focus only on purpose, sometimes we risk losing sight of the short-term business requirements. This tension necessitates knowing how to manage this instability, such that we live our everyday life with a sense of purpose, yet live our purpose with a sense of everyday life.
For these reasons, it is especially important to have tools for measuring and assessing the degree to which the organization is purpose-oriented, as intuition does not always go hand-in-hand with reality. It happens rather often that upon measuring, managers are amazed to find their efforts are not producing the expected results or, even worse, they are actually regressing. Of course, it also happens that some managers are pleasantly surprised to see their efforts yielding better results than expected. Maintaining a high level of purpose (something that should be natural in all organizations) requires taking the pulse of the organization frequently, without ever letting down one’s guard. The more we are able to bring shared purpose into our sphere of work, the greater will be the effects and consequences for organizations.