Clarity of Purpose

The natural system model recognizes the forces and energies in organisations that flow from the natural tendencies of individuals and groups to meet their needs for social relations, influence and psychological growth by seeking autonomy to exercise their own purposefulness. In addition to being more motivated, purposeful subunits are important in organizational effectiveness when the organization faces frequently changing and uncertain task environments since they can more quickly and accurately respond to environmental changes. (Mc Kelvey and Killman (1))

Not all organisations share the same purpose. Commercial organisations, for example, are based on the logic of profit that implies competitiveness, measurable targets (not least financial) and extrinsic reward systems e.g. performance related pay.

On the other hand, public sector organisations are based on the logic of accountability which means impartiality, strict control of resources, division of labour and universal values that treat each consumer of their output the same, irrespective of need.

The third sector, or social economy as it is also called, is based on the logic of commitment, where people ‘do what needs to be done’ and are strongly influenced by shared values.

One thing is constant, however. Belief in the cause is important for morale and for engagement in the people who need to identify with the purpose of the organisation, and that purpose must be relevant to their lives.

For example, they may want to be part of something that is leader in its field, or that does what nobody else can do, or helps people, or solves problems cleverly, or is protecting the environment, or delivering health and quality of life etc. the list is endless.

People who work in organisations need to know why their organisation exists: they need a reason why they should give their enthusiastic support to its aims day in, day out. Any organisation needs enthusiastic, committed, confident people, committed to seeing it succeed if it is to have any chance of success.

With clarity of purpose comes an intrinsic acceptance of the mission and a clear understanding of where the organisation needs to be in the future.

Lack of clarity of that purpose is an issue that frequently goes unnoticed until things get really bad. In the daily effort of ‘doing the business’, the emphasis can easily change to how things are done, rather than why: process subtly takes precedence over outcome and results in people becoming psychologically disengaged from the organisation or, worse, from the customer.

Organisations, therefore, need to instill a sense of purpose that permeates the organisation to its farthest reaches and galvanises its people each day they come to work, giving them a reason for their work.

When an organisation’s purpose is clear to employees, they are much more likely to identify with it and become actively engaged and committed to making their very best contribution to overall success.

Organisations often engage in corporate strategy analysis, but clarity of purpose is a core strategy: a foundation without which no amount of rational planning will be secure.

It is necessary in order to get everybody buying-in to the extant strategy and everything lined up to support it. It is a necessary pre-requisite for overall organisational Service-Ability.



(1) McKelvey W. Kilmann R. H. (1975) Organizational Design: A Participative Multivariate Approach. Administrative Science Quarterly, Volume 20. No. 1 March 1975 pp. 24-36


Why the WHY is important