It might be time to test your assumptions.

I had just started working with the executive team of a real estate tech company.  They were scaling fast and recognized the need to work more cohesively to get where they wanted to go. The good news was that they recognized this and were willing to come together and explore ways to improve. They clearly respected each other, but only sporadically came together as a team, citing the demands of their own manager responsibilities.  It would quickly become evident that their lack of team cohesion was having a bigger impact across the organization than they realized.

What Happened

The first step was to gather information from each team member to identify where the team was aligned and where they were out of sync around goals, challenges and opportunities.  First question: What is the Purpose of your business? (Meaning WHY does it exist?) Their responses were illuminating. Each had a different answer.  Not just in language, but fundamentally different answers. And when I visited their offices for the first time, I observed that their company’s Purpose was prominently displayed on the wall in their lobby. It didn’t match any of their responses. A potential source of the problem was becoming clear.

Why It Matters

It’s tempting to dismiss this as benign.  Isn’t a company’s Purpose implied? Does it really matter if everyone states it differently? It’s a common assumption that can lead to businesses squandering resources and wasting time.  Without explicitly anchoring to a common Purpose, the obstacles to progress pile up and all too often leaders don’t realize the significant impact it’s having.

A Purpose is an organization’s reason for being. Its WHY (beyond making a profit). It’s the filter through which leaders make decisions, prioritize effort, and deploy resources. When leaders across an organization operate with the same explicit shared Purpose, it’s miles easier to ensure collective attention and effort are pointed in the same direction.

Consider the child who is incessantly asking Why? Why? Why!? We are wired to seek the answer to this question. It may get socialized out of us to constantly ask out loud, but it doesn’t diminish our innate need to understand why things matter. And when the WHY is not explicit, we instinctively make it up (whether we realize it or not), defining the filter through which we make decisions.

How Misalignment Undermines Progress

I suspected each team member was making decisions through the perspective of a different filter. Their misalignment became increasingly evident throughout our team process, creating confusion and discord within the team AND across teams. There was a ripple effect across the organization that influenced what each team prioritized. They were unknowingly making it for their business to perform well. They were “too busy” to work together to ensure they were all rowing in the same direction. There was a cost. And this scenario happens ALL the time.

Course Correcting (it’s easier than you think)

We needed to step back and get in sync on the WHY before brainstorming the WHAT. Through productive spirited debate, the team landed on a shared stated Purpose. Once we did this, the team was able to course correct with little guidance. Their brainstorming efforts became infinitely easier now that they were processing ideas through the same filter. They challenged each other regularly to ensure collective accountability. Vigorous debate continued, but with a unified guiding compass, the debate was additive in nature not defensive, sparking innovation and strengthening commitment to more cross functional collaboration. It certainly didn’t solve everything, but it was clear that it accelerated collective forward movement and motivated them to break down silos and work together. That’s a significant improvement.

Easy (but important) Steps to Ensure Purpose Alignment

1. Test Assumptions

  • Get sincerely curious.
  • Ask yourself: How widely understood is your Purpose across your organization?  How do you know?  Is it an assumption?
  • Ask others to find out.  Be open to hear their answers.

2. Define Explicitly

  • What is the Purpose of your business?  Can you clearly articulate it for yourself?
  • If not, how can you define it explicitly so it’s easily understood by others?
  • Does this statement provide a relevant filter through which leaders across the organization can make decisions and prioritize effort?
  • Do you need to engage other leaders in this process so that your Purpose statement is relevant?  Testing your blind spots is encouraged!

3. Create Alignment

  • Explore how each team across the organization can best explicitly align their efforts to your Purpose.
  • Assign this ongoing responsibility explicitly to each team leader. This ensures sustainable alignment no matter what changes happen in your business.
  • Are team goals well aligned to the Purpose? Excellent. Call it out.
  • Are there adjustments to be made? Make adjustments intentionally.

4. Convey Openly and Often

  • Transparently, proactively and consistently provide the WHY for people so that they do not need to divert any attention toward figuring it out for themselves.
  • Repetition is required.  It helps to integrate your Purpose so every person is organically navigating with the same guiding compass.
  • Weave your organization’s Purpose into existing communication systems to provide relevant context. Assign this ongoing responsibility to all team leaders.
  • Model how your Purpose has served as an important filter through which you’ve made decisions.  Assign this ongoing responsibility to all team leaders.

The Bottom Line

  • Your organization’s Purpose matters. It serves as a collective compass through which people make decisions.
  • Ensuring Purpose alignment makes it
  • for teams to all be rowing in the same direction.  This improves outcomes and accelerates progress.
  • People do better work when they know WHY. Consistently anchoring to your Purpose provides the WHY for people, making it easier for them to do their best work.
  • Testing your assumptions is smart business. Step back occasionally to look for evidence that people across your organization know your Purpose. That they know why the WHY matters.

How aligned is YOUR organization?

Find out by taking my FREE assessment.

  • Surface what may be undermining progress in your business
  • Receive actionable insights to address these underminers head on

FREE Organization Alignment Assessment

Do people know your Purpose?

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