While most managers avoid purpose work, if they do engage in it, they tend to take one of two strategies. First, they think about the organization and then announce the purpose, mission, values, and strategies. Second, they create a task force. The task force then does similar work or engages a consulting firm to do it. In each case, the learning tends to be based on data gathering and analysis but not on the kind of inquiry necessary. The purpose that is derived has limited authenticity. It does not resonate, the people do respond, and the organization does not change.
To find the collective purpose, you need to look across all the people, practice empathy for each one, and then generalize your empathy. What is it that every person wants, even if they will not admit it? When do the people love what they are doing? When are they interested and flourishing? What is the greatest collective ability and contribution?
Purpose work is hard. It requires operating outside conventional thought. One must engage in what David Cooperwriter calls “appreciative inquiry.” You will find the purpose of your organization when you begin to appreciate and inquire into the collective goodness of the people.
You might consider questions like this: when is your organization at its very best? What is the collective conscience and what moral message does it send? In a crisis, how do the people respond? When they are giving all they have to give, what are they trying to achieve? Are they simply trying to survive or is there a higher purpose worthy of sacrifice?
The above suggests that few people have voice because it requires the hard work of deep learning. A person discovers purpose and finds voice by discovering key talents and what the person loves to do; by seeing how the key talents can be used to contribute to the larger whole; by becoming totally committed and engaging in deep learning; and by listening to the conscience and acting with moral power.
Organization purpose is discovered through a similar but even more challenging process of deep learning. Someone has to discover unique strengths of the organization, what currently motivates the diverse people in the organization, and what common but unstated,and even counterintuitive, collective needs are going unfulfilled.
- Is it possible that your team, unit, or organization has a higher purpose that is unstated?
- How many people would you need to talk to in order to understand it?
- What questions would you ask?