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Embedding purpose vs. doing what comes naturally

One of my eyebrows keeps rising in Roger Moore-like fashion as I see our renewed focus on values and behaviour change in organisations.

Since the 1990s, I’ve been involved programmes with catchy monikers to address it: “mPowering People”, “Mission Possible”, “Success through Shared Values”, “The Power of One” “Living the Values” and all that jazz. That we are still talking in these terms suggests that it’s been challenging to achieve – difficult to unlock our latent potential in the way organisations would like.

Currently trending is “Purpose” and what raises my other eyebrow in surprise is hearing people talk about “embedding” our purpose. We would be far better to find a way for people have a sense of purpose rather than "buying in" or "internalising" it, and I think that we might have a lead on how to do it.

Have a Jelly Baby and “bear with”; I won't keep you very long.

The way we are - naturally

Hollywood film director Tom Shadyac (who directed lots of Jim Carey comedies – think Pet Detective!) concludes in his (rather more serious) film documentary “I AM” that: “…cooperation and not competition, may be nature’s most fundamental operating principle.” I urge you to watch it, it’s also very entertaining. Closer to home, if you attend an Immersion workshop for the Blueprint for Better Business, your eyes will be opened by Sister Helen Alford from the Pontifical University of St Thomas. She sites some very diverse sources (Goshal, Dan Pink, The Enlightenment) to support the view that we as humans are individual and relational at the same time. In simple terms; yes we are self-ish (compelled to look after our own), but we also have an inescapable desire to contribute to things that are self-less. That’s not very Hollywood, or very “homo economicus” as Sister Helen puts it, but it is increasingly recognised to be the way we are.

Harnessing the way we are

When you understand that we as humans are predisposed to be collaborative, it’s not difficult to see why we engage so readily with the biggest ever platform on which to be social, share and collaborate – the Social Network. Young people tend to do what comes naturally and to them diving in to Social Media is like falling off a stripped log in an oil spill (of course it helps that they can master the tech, but being able to actually use it is not the reason why it’s so ubiquitous).

Companies have tried to tap into this natural behaviour by installing Social Networks in their organisations. But as I learnt from Simply Succeed, who have a methodology to make sure that it’s done properly, setting up and running a so-called Enterprise Social Network (ESN) has hitherto been a bit hit and miss.

How can we harness the way we are and what we do naturally?

We’re back to Purpose. In a company, which is a form of social network, where employees have a good sense of the Purpose, it will act as a “unit of direction”, or a kernel around which any network will collaborate and grow.

The programmes that have already established a vision and a mission, strong values and a good corporate culture, will then come into sharper focus. With a truly felt purpose, people in a social network – or company – will also feel free to contribute their all within the bounds of that common purpose and a set of shared values. The network will rapidly become more valuable by developing properties beyond what is present in the people that make it up.

Moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer, who also reflected on the Human Condition, observed that: “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other”. So one way of looking at Purpose is that it gives us something to imitate. I prefer to think of purpose as a truly “lived behaviour” as Graham Massey of The House puts it in a recent post on the “importance of expressing corporate values as lived behaviours”. With a common (corporate) purpose that resonates with participants' personal values, we can excite these "lived behaviours". In companies that operate more as networks and whose driving force is more collaborative than competitive, this transformation will happen. Not because of some catchy moniker designed to “embed”, but because we, as humans, are free to do what comes naturally.


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