Purpose Management and Improvement in Organizations

Who is the bespectacled gentleman in the mural behind me in the photo at the top of this blog? In case you don't recognize him, it's Dr. W. Edwards Deming, one of my professional hero's of the 20th century who advocated on behalf of the importance of quality, continuous improvement, and purpose-driven change in organizations. 

Purpose, Deming said, is a top-down concept that includes an organization’s Vision, Mission, Core Values, and Value Proposition which, together, strategically drive and give direction to its performances and the delivery of their outputs which end up in the hands of its customers. Here’s where the concept of effectiveness becomes relevant;  one cannot determine if there has been an effective performance or effective performance improvement in an organization until those outputs are being measured for their alignment or consistency with its purpose.  In case you’re not comfortable with the meaning of the four terms which comprise an organization’s purpose, here are their operational definitions:

  • Vision is the end-state toward which an organization aspires to be or become in the future.
  • Mission is the ultimate outcome or result an organization aspires to achieve or accomplish.
  • Core Values are the fundamental beliefs or guiding principles of the organization that dictate its people’s behaviors and actions in fulfilling its Mission and Vision.
  • Value Proposition is a business or marketing statement that summarizes why a customer should buy a product or use a service from a given organization. It should convince a potential customer that its particular product and/or service will uniquely add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings.

Therefore, we can say that Purpose is focused on making sure that your organization’s workers are “doing the right things”:  if a process, project, program, product or portfolio IS aligned with an organization’s purpose, it’s the right thing to be doing; if it’s NOT aligned, it’s NOT the right thing to be doing and you should NOT be allocating your scarce resources to doing so.

Some clients I’ve supported have initially confused the concept of effectiveness with the concept of efficiency but there is an important difference:  efficiency is focused on making sure that an organization’s workers are ‘doing things right’ in the context of its policies, procedures, and (best) practices: if a process, project, program, product or portfolio IS being performed in accordance with an organization’s policies, procedures, and (best) practices, it’s the right way to be performing it; if it’s NOT, it’s NOT the right way and should be changed.

So, an organization can be efficient (doing things right) but NOT effective (doing the right things).  It can also be effective but NOT efficient.  If the organization wants to achieve results that are better, faster, less costly, and more profitable than before, the goal should be BOTH effective AND efficient performance. When we use the term working smarter, that’s what we mean:  achieving better, faster, less costly, and more profitable results by working more effectively and efficiently.

Purpose Management and Improvement are both about defining what ‘right’ means to an organization and it should be led by the Board of Directors with the C-suite of executives or Senior Leadership Team as the key drivers. It sets the stage for the rest of the organization in its efforts to set its Key Performance Indicators and for its people to fulfill them.  While Purpose Management and Improvement should be ongoing, any changes in direction should be long-term (2+ years out) unless there has been a change in ownership/leadership or a merger/acquisition.  Otherwise, the organization will find itself in a reactive mode when it comes to effectiveness in a way that will confuse its people and undermine its own health and well-being.

We are available to provide six (6) different types of services to assist our clients with Purpose Management and Improvement: Consulting (Providing professional advice to upper management), Mentoring (Providing insights and guidance to a high potential individual), Coaching (Providing insights and guidance to a high potential team), Training (Providing technology and knowledge transfer via instructor-led, virtual or blended group learning), Facilitating (Expediting the completion of a process, project, program, portfolio or organizational preparedness), and Auditing (Providing assurance of conformance with a standard policy, operating procedure or practice).

In my next blog, I’ll address People Management and Improvement.

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