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.
Purpose is a construct. So is strategy. Mission, in an Apollo 11 sense, is not a construct — you can witness it happening. Mission is the mechanism for converting purpose, vision and strategy into boots-on-the-ground action.
In the following graphic, you can see how purpose is coupled with vision to form intent. This determines strategy, which is brought to life by means of a mission composed of sub-missions and contributing projects.
Much of what I write about management and organisations is underpinned by the ideas conveyed in this graphic.
What the labels mean
Intent is the heartfelt desire of an individual or enterprise to enrich the world in a particular way. The twofold aspects of intent are purpose and vision of realised potential. These aspects are inextricably linked.
Purpose is a declaration of why the enterprise exists, beyond profit. An articulation of the value the enterprise intends to generate for a given set of beneficiaries. In some cases the purpose declaration will spell out or hint at the means by which this value is generated.
Vision (of realised potential)
Vision is a depiction — an actual picture accompanied by vivid explanatory text — of how the world will look, sound and feel when the enterprise is fully utilising its value generation potential and living its purpose to the full. Vision is expressed in the present tense, because it is a desired present, not a desired future. Ideally, people would like to wake up tomorrow to find a miracle had occurred while they were sleeping, and that the desired reality had come into being of its own accord, without any human intervention.
Purpose, although aspirational, is not a goal. Rather, it is a statement that is true, to a greater or lesser extent, yesterday, today and tomorrow. An enterprise’s purpose is not only enduring, it is also framed in a general way: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google, see here).
Vision, the desired state of affairs the enterprise wishes to bring into being, translates abstract purpose into something very specific. Vision also gives purpose embryonic existence in the world of things, which is why it needs to be a physical artifact and not just a form of words.
Here is an excellent example of vision, created by Crackerjack Visual Thinking (purpose: Creating pictures that help people and organisations share ideas and have better conversations) on behalf of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust:
Image © 2020 Crackerjack Visual Thinking | Image used with the permission of John Ashton and NUH
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.
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 living purpose to the full, and realising the vision — or some significant aspect of it — within a given timeframe.
Each successive mission has the aim of manifesting 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, other stakeholders and wider society.
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:
Enabling processes and practices
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 of every enterprise, business and nonprofit alike, is to generate value.
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.
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.
Value is a unifying principle: the red thread that unites purpose, 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.
A beneficiary is a person who experiences the value generated by a value generator. The beneficiary is always an individual, never a group or an enterprise. At street level, stakeholders are not theoretical groups — they are actual human beings, each with a unique set of value requirements.