The Pursuit of (Organizational) Purpose.

[tweetmeme source= “deb_lavoy” only_single=false]In the last few years, we have all accepted as desirable cultural traits the ideas of “collaboration” and “engagement”. Many people have talked about why these values are, uh, valued. The Shift Index, from the venerable Hagel and Seely Brown duo at Deloitte, discusses these things, as does Steven Dennings Radical Management. These two are just a couple of the noteworthy recent references on the topic. There are dozens more.

But do we just decide to be more engaging and collaborative? Does wishing it make it so? What really get’s people’s juices flowing? What makes a team, an organization click? Why are some organizations endlessly political and others brim over with enthusiasm and esprit de corp? Is it the people? The “culture”? the industry?

Its is not any of those things. People work together and collaborate well when they have a sense of what David Brooks calls “Limerence” those “moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away” and people experience a deep sense of intellectual intimacy. Daniel Pink shares his research into what motivates people in cognitive tasks – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Simon Sinek divides the world of organizations into the “whys” and the ‘whats” with the “whys” winning every time.

For the last couple of years I’ve been working in the enterprise 2.0/social collaboration market.  I’ve learned a couple of things out in this jungle.  We can accurately predict who will be successful with our collaboration tools. We can predict it with 100% accuracy. There’s only one criteria. A sense of mission and a sense of purpose.
Not a mission statement, crafted in the late 90’s and framed on the wall somewhere. I mean a deep, omnipresent, constantly pursued sense of what the organization is about. What its for.

People want to matter. They want to do great things. Nobody goes to work hoping to be dull. What holds them back? Sometimes management does. And sometimes lack of it. And sometimes its personal issues. But in a purpose driven organization, every conversation, every meeting is infused with “how do we get better at making this important difference”. The company is creating value faster than its taking it out of the market.

The purpose acts as the primary criteria for decision-making. Without a purpose, there is only the balance sheet and politics. There is no way to make durable, impactful decisions in the absence of purpose, so politics becomes the primary factor. People become  competitive, self-protective kingdom builders.  Power and talent is used for personal gain, not constructive, purposeful outcomes.

Or worse, they are just disaffected. Disengaged is the term used  in the invaluable Blessing White research. The net result is people going through the motions.

But when people have a shared purpose, a mission, an aspiration, politics recedes into the background and talent is engaged. People strive. To do the right thing, to do the best they can.

A long time ago I worked on such a team. It was awesome. We loved each other and our jobs and we did incredible things. Then things changed. The team was broken up. And the new team couldn’t do the same things. We couldn’t do the impossible. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to always find ways to restore the power and euphoria of  that first team again. To regain that heart-pumping feeling that we could do anything. Together. I’ve dedicated myself to understanding the difference for myself, and so that we could change the norms of how people work.

Then about a year ago, I found an fantastic opportunity to work on technology that  helps people to eliminate the barriers and complexities and banalities of teamwork – the impossible task of keeping in synch, understanding, seeing opportunities, building and leveraging on what’s been done before and on each person’s contributions. Of course you know that being collaborative is not a technology problem, but good, useful, simple, powerful tools certainly help.

I now enjoy the extraordinary privilege of working with some extraordinary people, including Anthony Gallo and Scott Bowen, Jason Varmazis and Dave Wormald, Ian, Mitro, Dawn, Greg, and many more. And yes, we’ve got a solid dose of that “team” magic.

As we set out, Anthony asked me “what is the essence of what this is for, what is the gestalt of it?” And so I tossed off some stuff. And we worked at the whiteboard. For months. I would send him one-liners. From my car. From my desk. From the playground. And he would say “yes, but….”.

And then finally we got it. Really got it. Our mission is to support the purpose-driven organization. To support your pursuit of it, your understanding of it, your spreading of it, but most importantly, your execution of it.

The Purpose-Driven company. Driven by purpose, powered by teams. Collaborative teams – in the deepest sense of the term. Scott  championed our approach throughout the company. We are a team – different personalities and talents that wanted to build something that mattered. To you.

And so – today it begins. We launched a new website that tries to convey our thinking about purpose. How our customers and research have taught and inspired us, and invites you to join on our ride here. (though if you’re  interested in learning about the product, we have that information in there too).

Our team at OpenText (Note the new one-word version of the name.  We need to put a dollar in the curse jar every time we screw it up.)  celebrating what we’ve learned. A nod to the organizations who’s greater purpose drives them to do great things. We are celebrating you, and your purpose. Our goal is to provide something of value to you.

We’re beginning with a series of lectures and discussions to help you explore the idea, the value and the experience of being  purpose-driven  mission and purpose, and how it can transform your organization and the world. Simon Sinek will be our first speaker in NYC at 9am on July 11 at the cool Ace Hotel. He’s fabulous – if you haven’t seen him in person, I really hope you can join us. He just hums with passion and intensity.  (you can register here or on that shiny new website)

Please tell us what does and doesn’t matter to you. The best is yet to come.

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11 comments

  1. You see this play out in sports all the time. This year’s NBA finals is a great example of two teams that had a purpose — to win the NBA championship. Individual glory and stats are all secondary to that purpose. It truly is what separates the winners from the also rans.

  2. You’re right, brian – no over long post in the business space is really complete without a sports analogy – so thanks 🙂
    It is true though – the team that shares a vision does great things. The ones who don’t, don’t

  3. Deb,
    This is a great article. You are so lucky to have found a new collaboration and one with purpose. I’m still looking for mine but blogging has at least given me the opportunity to share my experience with others. I thought you might enjoy this blog about leaders from last year. http://grhgraph.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/you-can-always-tell-a-leader-by-the-arrows-in-his-back-unknown/
    Keep up the good work and please keep writing.
    Guy Horst
    http://www.grhgraph.wordpress.com

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