Purposeful people

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a successful business will have a clear purpose. A reason for being that goes beyond making profit. An overarching aim that brings benefits to customers, employees, stakeholders and (ideally) wider society. Companies that communicate their purpose well become brands in their own right, creating powerful emotional and rational connections.

This much is increasingly understood, and practised, in Africa’s modern boardrooms. All around us we’re becoming aware of richer conversations at senior executive level. A greater interest in communicating the chosen direction for a business, and articulating it in more compelling ways. Many employees are enjoying a greater sense of engagement, a process accelerated by the demands of business continuity during COVID-19.

But another truth is still out there – that most companies fail to execute their strategies successfully. There are still too many disconnects between the thinking of the few and the doing of the many. And it’s less lack of employee alignment than the fact that employees and their managers are habitually narrow-focussed. They attack tasks in a hurried fashion, trying to find a quick solution. Completion is everything. But the approach is linear and often leads straight into a brick wall.

To address this in organisational culture change we work deep inside companies, putting together cross-disciplinary teams to create initiatives that improve company performance. We coach non-marketers to contribute to marketing campaigns; non-techies to help shape digital transformation; and back-office staff to reshape customer experience. In carrying out these initiatives, employees learn new behaviours which, in time, become ‘the way we do things around here’.

When we set up these change teams, we get them started by asking three powerful questions:

  1. What do you want to achieve?
  2. How would you know when you have got it?
  3. Why is this important to the company, and to you?

Debating these questions, and forming a consensus on the answers, gives employees a broader perspective on any challenge before they dive right into it.

Questions 1 and 3 permit them to define their own purpose, and give their efforts greater meaning. Creating purposefulness at this tactical level also helps to bring the company’s strategic purpose to life.

Question 2 obliges them to consider metrics and decide how they will account for their actions. Without this discipline, many projects, tasks, campaigns and initiatives simply become activities without end. A real giveaway is when teams report activities as ‘ongoing’ – signalling that they have lost purpose and momentum.

It’s commendable to open up opportunities for employees to create change.  But let’s coach them to make their actions purposeful.