A four-step approach for developing a connected purpose

08 November 2023 Consultancy.eu 5 min. read
Profile
More news on

International research shows that many CEOs struggle to build a ‘purpose’ which is both aligned to the organisation and its strategy, as well as understood by everyone in the organisation. Alize Hofmeester, managing partner at Twinxter, outlines a 4-step approach to build an effective and connected purpose.

Business purpose refers to the wider, long-term goals of an enterprise. It expresses the corporate's reason for existing, its particular commitment with respect to the surrounding world.

“When leaders succeed in embedding a strong purpose within the organisations, teams and individuals will thrive,” says Alize Hofmeester, managing partner at Twinxter. “It unlocks their true potential and enables an organisation to thrive and adapt smoothly in the face of change.”

5 common misconceptions about Agile and Business Agility

For a purpose to be successful, commitment from all layers of the organisation is required, which in turns means that leaders and stakeholders need to be able to connect and engage with the stated goals.

But a robust and broad supported purpose is not simply realised with the creation of a document. It has to come to life. In her work at Twinxter, Hofmeester explains that she has come across four key components which need to be present, for that to happen.

Step 1 – Imagine your future
Hofmeester begins, “First of all, business leaders looking to enshrine a purpose in their organisation need to play to what Yuval Harari once called ‘humanity’s strongest trait’: imagination. One example of how this can play an important role comes from an engagement with client of Twinxter. The team kicked off the programme by asking the leadership team to imagine their organisation in three years’ time.”

Each team member drew an envisioned future independently, before Twinxter encouraged them to come together to discuss their individual views one by one. Over the course of the resulting discussion, the client’s leadership team collaborated to create a shared future vision, but also helped them to understand how they could best explain each of its aspects to other people. 

“This way of visualising and communicating helped them to understand other people’s perspectives within the firm,” adds Hofmeester. “When a company needs to explain a plan – or its purpose – to its wider staff, that is critical knowledge. Leaders need to understand that not everyone will automatically see things from their point of view – and they need to know how to create a common understanding of what they value and what value they, together as a team and as a company, before they can deliver it to others.”

Step 2 – Create your story
After this first step, Hofmeester recalls that the client was “so excited”, and wanted to rush to share their vision of the future with the rest of the organisation. The problem with that is that telling a story directly to different individuals, who then pass it on, leaves the story open to being misinterpreted or misremembered – diluting the messaging. 

Instead, Twinxter encouraged the client’s leaders to sit together again, for another exercise. Similarly to the last process, this relied on each leader contributing their version of the narrative around purpose they wanted to deliver, before trying to relate it to each other.

Hofmeester remembers, “They started to write their shared story. But by doing so, they noticed that they still had some gaps to fill. This was the start of their future journey, and they were curious what the employees would think of the purpose and how it would relate to daily business. But before they could do that, they needed to ensure that they all had their stories straight, to make sure that their messaging was consistent, coherent, and could be easily understood by all stakeholders.”

Step 3 – Validate your story 
Hofmeester continues, “With small exercises out of the way, Twinxter helped the client push ahead with their plans to communicate with the wider organisation. In particular, the team encouraged employees to join the ‘validation’ process of implementing the firm’s purpose, to give them a sense that they could help craft their future together.”

The validation consisted of demonstrations in several different formats. In small groups the leaders explained their thoughts – before participants gave their feedback or added what they missed and would like to see added. Whenever changes come in at a workplace, they can be met with resistance by staff who worry it will impact their future at the firm – but by including them in the process, firms can ensure a greater level of buy-in in the changes from their workforce.

“The staff are invited to build on the initial thoughts of their leaders,” Hofmeester asserts. “Even better, employees volunteer to help improve the story, and became ambassadors of this future movement. Suddenly, the purpose becomes real to them too, and they are excited – not scared – to help build it.”

Step 4 – Re-define your purpose
Even after these stages, there is still room to fine-tune the plan, though. As defining their purpose related not only to their future, but to their past, the client’s leadership team dived into the roots of the organisation. This is crucial to undertake, because if a firm does not understand its legacy, for better or worse, it will struggle to redefine its future, and may even fall into the same traps as before. 

“Before moving on, they used all sorts of techniques, such as crowdsourcing, design-thinking, and feedback-loops to identify and validate their aspired values, and principles,” states Hofmeester. “Meanwhile, they also analysed their organisation’s current situation, the challenges they had to overcome, which let towards multiple, common strategic themes and an overview of what to work on first.”

Finally, when this process has been undertaken, Hofmeester recommends that firms check it against three key principles. Who does it inspire (just the leaders, or the whole workforce)? How will it change the firm, and the world around it? And what added value will it bring to customers, employees and society? If there are not convincing answers for each, then more planning is needed.

After all, Hofmeester concludes, “A purpose is not just a slogan on the wall, and it also has nothing to do with a number, like increasing profit or opening the next shop. It’s a belief that reflects all of the above in a short inspiring and ambitious sentence and has everything to do with your identity and the promise you make to employees, customers, stakeholders, and society at large.”