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How do you Articulate Organisational Purpose?

On an individual level we my occasionally wonder what our purpose is. Organisations very often set strategic goals which are financially driven, but forget the reason why the organisation exists in the first place

Where does the answer to the question “What is our purpose” come from?

The first thing to understand is that you do not create purpose. Purpose is what it is; it is why the organisation exists in the first place. The unconscious organisation can articulate purpose through four diagnostic phases: Consult. Listen. Simplify. Understand.

Phase 1: Interviews with Key Stakeholders
The start point of articulating organisation purpose is to get people to talk to one another, via structured interviews with key stakeholders both internally and externally. The interviewer must encourage interviewees to tell stories about the organisation at its best by asking questions about what the interviewee understood about the organisation at that time.

Phase 2: Appreciative Inquiry of Organisational Purpose
Appreciative inquiry simply means recognizing what is best about the organisation (appreciative) by asking questions (inquiry). There are two options for Appreciative inquiry at an organisational level;

a) Organisational Purpose Forums
Groups of employees are taken through a process where a facilitator helps forum members to describe their best experience of the organisation in as much detail as possible while encouraging the rest of the forum to be curious and ask questions. Once the exploration is complete, the facilitator asks, on the basis of what the forum have just discussed, to develop a consensus on what really matters to the organisation.

b) Organisational Purpose Conference
For larger organisations it may be impractical to run numerous forums over a long period of time therefore a large group event is recommended.
The opportunity cost of ‘lost’ work, and the added value of getting so many people together in an appreciative climate can easily lead to productivity benefits which are significantly greater than the cost of the conference.

Phase 3: Articulating Purpose
Once the interview and appreciative inquiry phases are completed a small but diverse, team is appointed to examine the outputs and articulate the organisational purpose. It may take a number of drafts, and it is recommended that the statement of organisational purpose is stress tested with focus groups.

Phase 4: Shared Purpose
For employees to own the organisational purpose they need to share the purpose, so, creating mechanisms to communicate how the organisational purpose relates to their day to day work is essential. Whether it is in meetings, one to ones, presentations, taglines on internal organisational literature, in employee briefings, newsletters, company magazines, social media, press releases, posters, mouse mats or even the screen saver on company computers; if it can be written, blogged, tweeted, spoken, mentioned or referred to – do it.