Hardly a week goes by without the authors of an article in Harvard Business Review or some other management journal asking “How can we translate our purpose into pervasive and sustained practical action?”

Here is a passage from one such article:

Today’s most purpose-driven companies strive to embed their purpose at the core of how they do business and chart their long-term trajectory. An inclusive, innovative, and engaging employee culture is a critical part of that process, but it’s not sufficient on its own. Leading firms believe purpose goes beyond culture to strategy.

Source: Ten ways leading companies turn purpose into strategy, on EY Beacon Institute website.
The link from purpose to strategy, and from strategy to action, is tenuous at best. Is there some means by which purpose can underpin boots-on-the-ground action throughout the enterprise?

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

Purpose is a specific form of intent

Read Woodrow Wilson's address in full »
Woodrow Wilson is talking about intent, a heartfelt desire to enrich the world and utilise our value generation potential to the full.

Intent is not synonymous with strategic intent, a management concept originated by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad and introduced in their classic 1989 Harvard Business Review article Strategic Intent.

Purpose is therefore a specific form of intent: a heartfelt desire to enrich a particular piece of the world in a particular way.

Purpose determines strategy, and strategy serves purpose

The following graphic shows how purpose 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
Purpose is expressed as vision of realised potential: an actual picture accompanied by vivid and compelling synopsis depicting how the world will look, sound and feel when the enterprise is utilising its value generation capability without constraint and manifesting its purpose to the full. This is idealistic, and rightly so.

Strategy

In Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, author Richard Rumelt defines strategy in the following way:

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
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 obstacles to the manifestation of purpose will be surmounted.

If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have a stretch goal or a budget or a list of things you wish would happen.

Source: The perils of bad strategy, by Richard Rumelt, in McKinsey Quarterly, June 2011.
In a generative enterprise, the overriding and persistent challenge is the manifestation of purpose.

Translating strategy into value-focused action

Beneficiaries

Enriching the world means generating the greatest amount of value for the greatest number of beneficiaries.

A beneficiary is a person or a body of people gaining value by virtue of an enterprise’s activities.

I adopted the term stakeholder three decades ago, long before it moved into the mainstream, but I now prefer to talk about beneficiary for the sake of clarity, sidestepping the various interpretations and critiques of stakeholder theory.

Beneficiary set, beneficiary groups and beneficiaries

Value

Value means benefit, and it comes in three main forms: economic value, conceptual value and experienced value. Prospero work is mostly concerned with experienced value. For the Prospero practitioner, experienced value, meaning and joy are closely related.

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
by Christian Grönroos, a Professor of Service and Relationship Marketing at Hanken Swedish School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland.
Read more about value, value generation and anti-value

Value generator

Value is not ‘delivered’, as if by FedEx. It is co-created through the interaction between the beneficiary and the value generator. A value generator is something tangible (a product or other physical artefact) or intangible (such as a service, a theatre performance or a piece of music) that produces experienced value when the user interacts with it.

How value is generated
If you would like to know more about value co-creation, I strongly recommend Evolving to a New Dominant Logic for Marketing (pdf; 17pp), a groundbreaking paper written by Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch, and published in Journal of Marketing, Vol. 68 (January 2004). The Wikipedia entry for Service-dominant logic is also very informative, and includes this useful summary of axioms and foundational premises:
Service-dominant logic: axioms and foundational premises

Value generation capability

This is the latent power of the enterprise to produce value generators, make them available to potential beneficiaries and help people gain as much value as possible.

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

  • Capable people (employees, contractors, gig workers, professional service providers etc. – see here)
  • Enabling practices
  • Enabling technology

When executives and management writers talk about capability, they are usually talking about value generation capability. I prefer the long form as it serves as a constant reminder that the purpose of every commercial and nonprofit enterprise is generating value, no matter what the official framing of that purpose might be.

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 purpose — or some significant aspect of it — within a given timeframe.

Each successive mission has the aim of manifesting purpose more fully.

Each successive mission has the aim of manifesting the enterprise’s purpose 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.

Strategy and mission are so closely connected that they can be considered one continuous 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 purpose and generating maximum value for customers or users and other beneficiaries.

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

I’ll share more of my ideas about enterprise-wide and localised missions in a future article.