The first of W Edward Deming's 14 points for management is to "Create a constancy of purpose". This is still very relevant today.
For example, I recently listened to a programme called The Charity Business on BBC Radio 4. In the third episode we learn that some charities are excellent at raising funds, but their impact is minimal. We also learn there are other charities that make a huge impact, but are not so good at raising funds. It means we end up giving money to the charities that are good at pulling on our heart strings and persuading us to donate, while other charities that make a difference go out of business.
It sounds like some charities focus too much on fund-raising, to the detriment of their original purpose. This is one reason why constancy of purpose is important – to keep everyone focused on doing the right things.
Here are four more reasons why purpose is important:
1. Alignment. In Fourth Generation Management by Brian L Joiner, he uses a diagram similar to the one below to highlight the importance of a clear purpose.
2. Decision making. In this 30 second clip, Olympic rower Ben Hunt-Davis explains one of the reasons why his team won gold in Sydney. During training, every time they had a decision to make they'd ask themselves "Will it make the boat go faster?"
This was the purpose of their training. It gave them clarity about what they were there to do – even if it meant missing out on trips to the pub. Likewise, you can ask "will this help us achieve our purpose of...?" when making those difficult decisions in your organisation.
3. Motivation. In Drive by Dan Pink, purpose is one of his three ingredients of intrinsic motivation. His research finds that "The most deeply motivated – not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied – hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves". Later on in the book he also says "If people don't know why they're doing what they're doing, how can you expect them to be motivated to do it?"
4. Measurement. Purpose defines what your organisation exists to do. If you don't have measures that relate to purpose, how will know how well the organisation is performing? John Seddon puts it nicely with this diagram:
In my next post I'll share the most important lesson I've learned about defining the purpose of a service. In the meantime, feel free to comment below, or share this with someone you think could be interested.