What’s With the Why?
We keep hearing about an organization’s why. What’s up with the why? Determining an organization’s why is one of the most imperative acts in an organization’s creation. The why is the purpose of an organization. It’s been said that an organization’s purpose is even more important than the organization itself. Purpose can be thought of as the DNA of an organization. An organization without a shared purpose is like a car without wheels. You can sit in the car, turn it on, buckle up, listen to the radio, and even rev the engine, but if you want to go anywhere, you’ll need to get four wheels on the car’s axles.
An organization might both exist and appear to be going somewhere, but until it declares its shared purpose and starts to embody its why, it won’t go far. It will merely exist with a finite mindset which will undoubtedly lead to a disjointed culture.
When an organization establishes a thoughtful and clear shared purpose, it gives employees something tangible. An organization’s purpose should inspire and motivate people. When a shared purpose is clear and concise, employees will contribute more, share their knowledge, and utilize their abilities and skills to make sure the organization thrives. But just having a purpose isn’t enough for an organization. Leaders must practice and reinforce their shared purpose through their actions and reactions. Lead by example, because actions speak louder than words.
So that raises the question, is the organization’s purpose driving action?
When employees feel connected to an organization’s shared purpose, they are more likely to engage in actions outside of work that align with their own personal and professional purpose. If an organization’s why is to help people, are the organization’s actions supporting its shared purpose?
For example, when an organization registers to be a part of Habitat for Humanity or work at a local food bank, those actions will speak louder than a purpose printed at the top of its letterhead. When organizations seek out opportunities for their employees to act and live their shared purpose, it creates a more balanced and productive person. When an organization brings value and inspires people with a shared purpose, the culture is healthy, vibrant, and synergistic.
Where organizations struggle is when they don’t understand the difference between their purpose and a mission statement. So, let’s clear this up—an organization’s purpose is the why, and the mission statement is the what. An organization’s shared purpose is personal.
Organizational shared purpose is not a statement that keeps evolving as the company evolves. Purpose can’t ever be fulfilled, as it is designed to be pursued forever but never obtained. On the other hand, a mission statement is obtainable because it is ever-evolving and changing as the organization grows and transforms. The mission an organization had when it was just starting out will be different than the mission it has nine years later.
What an organization does changes constantly, but why it exists will never change.
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