Please note that I no longer use the term purpose in the sense of why an enterprise exists. As management cybernetician Stafford Beer pointed out, “the purpose of a system is what it does”. This is often abbreviated to POSIWID. The purpose of a can of WD40 is whatever you decide to do with it on any given occasion.

Instead, I talk about intent, by which I mean a heartfelt desire to enrich the world in a particular way.

A vision of realised potential is a depiction of how the world will look, sound and feel when the enterprise is fully utilising its value generation and manifesting its intent.

Rarely a week goes by without the authors of an article in Harvard Business Review, strategy+business, McKinsey Quarterly or some other management journal asking “How can we ensure that everyone is focused on implementing the new strategy?” or “How can we translate our purpose into moment by moment action?”

For example, the authors of Ten ways leading companies turn purpose into strategy, a research-based article on the website of EY Beacon Institute, offer this as one of the 10 ways: Drive purpose beyond culture and into strategy. Not very helpful.

View the article: Ten ways leading companies turn purpose into strategy »

It seems to me that in many enterprises the link from purpose to strategy, and from strategy to action, is tenuous at best. How can these connections be strengthened?

The answer, I suggest, is by means of a mission: an enterprise-wide programme of work in which everyone from the CEO to the most junior employee participates.

Mission is the mechanism for converting purpose intent and strategy into boots-on-the-ground action.

In the following graphic, you can see how intent determines strategy, which is brought to life by means of a mission composed of sub-missions and contributing projects.

Core organisational concepts reconceived and fully integrated
Much of what I write about management and organisations is underpinned by the ideas conveyed in this graphic.

What the labels mean

Intent

Intent is the heartfelt desire of an individual or enterprise to enrich the world in a particular way.

This heartfelt desire is expressed as a picture, accompanied by vivid explanatory text, of how the world will look, sound and feel when the enterprise is fully utilising its value generation and manifesting its intent. I refer to this as a vision of realised potential.

The kind of intent I discuss on this website is different from the concept originated by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, and introduced in their classic 1989 Harvard Business Review article Strategic Intent. Intent precedes strategy, and strategy serves intent.

Some people talk about vision in the same way I talk about intent. Here is an example, created by Crackerjack Visual Thinking on behalf of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust:

Nottingham University Hospitals' vision for Nursing and Midwifery, © 2020 Crackerjack Visual Thinking

Image © 2020 Crackerjack Visual Thinking | Image used with the permission of John Ashton and NUH

Strategy

In his influential book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt defines strategy as a cohesive response to an important challenge. In a generative enterprise, the overriding and persistent challenge is the manifestation of intent. Strategy is not a laundry list of objectives or a detailed master plan, but a pithy statement describing in the broadest of terms how the constraints to intent manifestation will be surmounted.

Mission

Here, the term is borrowed from the field of space exploration. It is not a synonym for vision or purpose, and it is not about mission statements. Mission is strategy in action.

In a generative enterprise, mission is an enterprise-wide programme of work aimed at manifesting intent — or some significant aspect of it — within a given timeframe. Each successive mission has the aim of manifesting intent more fully.

Each successive mission has the aim of manifesting the enterprise’s intent more fully

A mission consists of a mission objective and a suite of projects aimed at meeting the objective by a specified date. In some cases, a mission will be formed of two or more sub-missions, each composed of a set of projects.

The full manifestation of intent is a never-ending quest.

Strategy and mission are so closely connected that they can be considered continuous one stream of work.

Strategy is upstream of, and gives rise to, mission. Mission is downstream of, and animates, strategy with the ultimate aim of manifesting intent and generating maximum value for customers or users and other beneficiaries.

Strategy is a cohesive response to an important challenge. Three things make up the ‘kernel’ of good strategy:
A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge.
A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge.
A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. They are not ‘implementation’ details; they are “the punch in the strategy”.

Source: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, by Richard Rumelt

Value generation capability

This is the latent power of the enterprise to produce value generators (see next item), make them available to potential beneficiaries (customers, service users etc.) and help these people experience as much value as possible.

The main components of an enterprise’s value generation capability are:

Capable people
Enabling processes and practices
Enabling technology

When people talk about the capability of an enterprise they are usually talking about its value generation capability. I prefer the long form as it serves as a constant reminder that the purpose intent of every enterprise, business and nonprofit alike, is to generate value.

Value generator

A value generator is something tangible (a product or other artefact) or intangible (such as a service or a piece of music) that produces experienced value when the user interacts with it.

How value is generated

Value

Value means benefit. The three main forms of value are economic value, conceptual value and experienced value. I mostly talk about experienced value. Value is not ‘delivered’, as if by FedEx. It is co-created through the interaction between the value beneficiary (e.g. consumer, service user) and the value generator.

Read more about value co-creation:
Evolving to a New Dominant Logic, by Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch, in Journal of Marketing, January 2004
Wikipedia: Service-dominant logic

Value is a unifying principle: the red thread that unites purpose intent, vision, strategy, mission, project work, capability expansion, and other business fundamentals.

Value for customers means that after they have been assisted by a self-service process (cooking a meal or withdrawing cash from an ATM) or a full-service process (eating out at a restaurant or withdrawing cash over the counter in a bank) they are or feel better off than before.

Source: Service logic revisited: who creates value? And who co-creates? by Christian Grönroos, a Professor of Service and Relationship Marketing at Hanken Swedish School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland.

Beneficiary

A beneficiary is a person or enterprise gaining value by virtue of an enterprise’s existence, its activities or the value generators it produces.

Beneficiary set, beneficiary groups and beneficiaries

View the article: Value — the red thread
We will explore intent, strategy, mission, project work and value generation more thoroughly in future articles.