Create Alignment Through Constancy of Purpose

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Earlier this year, at a live management training event for a sophisticated multi-billion-dollar global company, I posed the following instructions in succession:

“Raise your hand if you consider yourself to be a purpose-driven leader.”

“Now, raise your hand if you consider yourself to be a values-driven leader.”

As you can imagine, most hands went up. I followed up by asking two questions:

“What is the organization’s purpose?”

One person offered one of the company’s past advertising slogans.

“What are the organization’s core values?”

Collectively, the group was able to tentatively suggest two of the organization’s five core values.

We spent the next couple of hours examining the organization’s purpose and core values so that the managers were equipped to be the purpose- and values-driven leaders they aspired to be.

This experience is not unique. Since 2015 I have questioned roomfuls of managers about organizational purpose, job purpose, and core values. The results indicate that while organizations consistentlydevelop corporate mission, vision, and purpose statements, company leadership is inconsistently able to recall them. As a result, leaders are unable to reveal these corporate ideals to employees, connect them to employees’ daily work activities, and leverage them to inspire greater employee engagement.

Last month, during an interview by April Mason with TwelveNoon Career Consulting for a podcast series she’s producing, I was asked why supervisors, managers, and leaders were often disconnected from their organization’s purpose and core values.

There are a variety of factors, chief among them is the tendency for managers (especially those who work in operations) to focus myopically on job functions, the processes executed by their staff and related performance metrics.

This bias is reinforced by the visible and concrete nature of job functions. Managers can see, touch, and measure them daily. They are a real, relevant, and credible part of a manager’s world of work. Managers are consumed by job functions and related budgets, quotas, productivity, and other metrics. There’s no doubt about the legitimacy and importance of job functions.

Organizational purpose, however, is poorly defined—if at all. It is seldom articulated in words, modeled by leadership, or intentionally linked to employees’ daily job responsibilities. It’s often relegated to the employee handbook, company website, or a laminated wallet card, annual report, or plaque in the executive corridor.

And there are seldom tools, processes, or mechanisms by which managers encounter or are prompted to interact with the organization’s purpose and core values. So, any early progress or enthusiasm following an event that showcases these corporate ideals quickly loses momentum as job functions reassume center stage.

The result is that the great majority of managers are disconnected from their company’s mission, vision, or purpose, and core values.

In response to April’s question about how to bridge the gap between the higher aspirations and ideals of the organization and employees’ daily work activities, the key is alignment. As the leadership expert Jim Collins notes, “Building a visionary company requires one percent vision and 99% alignment.”

Alignment is achieved through constancy of purpose. Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, reinforced this imperative, saying, “There needs to be someone who is the keeper and reiterator of the vision. Because there’s a ton of work to do (a reference to job functions, sales targets, profit percentages, productivity metrics, etc.). A lot of times when you have to walk a thousand miles and you take the first step, it looks like a long ways. It really helps if there’s someone there saying, ‘Well, we’re one step closer.’ The goal definitely exists. It’s not just a mirage out there. So, in a thousand and one little—and sometimes larger—ways, the vision (mission, purpose, and core values) needs to be reiterated. I do that a lot.”

My latest book, The Revelation Conversation: Inspire Greater Employee Engagement by Connecting to Purpose, demonstrates how to create alignment through constancy of purpose by revealing organizational purpose and core values to employees, linking these to employees’ daily job assignments, and leveraging this connection to inspire greater employee engagement.

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