An Incomprehensible Aspect of Higher Purpose

A friend helps companies discover their highest purpose. He described a leader he is working with. The leader said, “We have a financial problem. We are going to put aside our work on purpose until we can fix the financial picture.”

In this very conventional sentence, the leader conveys why so many organizations fail at purpose work. I once was slated to speak to a company’s leadership team at dinner. In the hours before dinner, all the managers met in small groups to do the unpleasant work of downsizing. When I went on, I asked how many began their downsizing efforts with an examination of the company’s purpose and values. The answer was zero. They could not imagine why they should do such a thing. They had a real problem to solve. It was like the above financial problem. It had nothing to do with purpose or values.

They were right. Their problem solving had nothing to do with their purpose and values. In fact, despite signs on the wall, they did not have a purpose or values. If the words on the wall were authentic, they would have required themselves do the downsizing in a unique way. Every person who left or stayed would have had an experience demonstrating that the company values people and has a positive culture.

In most companies, the process of purpose finding is a technique. It is executed because of external social pressure. Today every organization is expected to have a purpose statement.

If the above CEO understood organizational purpose, finding it would have been his highest priority. The purpose would have guided the financial problem-solving process. The process would have unfolded as never before and it would have created a more positive culture and a more valuable organization. Since the conventional mind cannot conceive of an “authentic” higher purpose that guides every action, stating an organizational purpose is an exercise in hypocrisy and it does positive harm in an organization.

Reflection

  • What conventional logic explains why the CEO put off purpose finding?
  • What conventional logic explains why the downsizing was not guided by purpose?
  • Why does stating a higher purpose often do positive harm in an organization?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?
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