Business is full of pithy sayings that are meant to inspire and guide us. Soundbites like Peter Drucker’s “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. But Drucker’s words are often taken out of context. Human systems are extremely difficult to measure, but there are some very powerful levers we can pull to maximise performance. Culture can’t be quantified, but purpose and beliefs are lever points that have a multiplier effect on organisation performance.
Setting direction is about more than a budget. A business’s purpose needs to go further than just profit and growth targets. In an increasingly commoditised world, you need to create a connection with your customers. That connection happens when you align value systems.
Apple makes a highly commoditised product. So, why does Apple hold such a special place in the current market and why can they charge higher prices than their competitors? Why do people wait in line outside the stores to buy the latest products? Apple has tapped into an audience with a common set of beliefs around design and function. Harley Davidson has done the same, tapping into rebel culture.
The research of Simon Sinek, looking at leaders such as Apple and Martin Luther King led to a profound realisation – one which we’ve embraced at Elabor8. While every business knows what it’s doing, very few understand why they do what they do. They don’t understand their real purpose and beliefs. So we undertook a journey to articulate why we do the work we do.
As Sinek puts it “The goal is not to do business with people who want what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe”.
We aspire to be a business where harmony, tolerance and equality are paramount. We focus on empowerment to lift motivation and to create great workplaces that go beyond the shareholder focus and embrace all stakeholders.
We engaged the wider team as we articulated our purpose, taking a design thinking approach that included everyone. This wasn’t our first attempt at creating a business-wide mission and set of values. Although we consulted on our previous attempts also, we failed to get buy-in from everyone. We didn’t quite hit the mark, but we believed articulating our vision and engaging our team with it was critical to achieving a self-sustaining business.
Moving from mission to expeditions
One of the challenges we faced in our previous attempts was terminology. Mission, vision and values are heavily used terms, with diverse and sometimes overlapping definitions. One person’s Vision is someone else’s Mission, and overlaid with this ambiguity is the need to disambiguate between things such as the corporate vision and the product vision. Meeting all stakeholders’ needs is difficult.
To solve this problem we engaged one of our resident Principal Consultants, Marcio Sete who is better described as a Management Scientist. He helped us to create our own ontology by synthesising different aspects we use to derive our purpose as Humans. These are the Philosophical, Psychological, Neurological and Sociological.
We wanted to take a 10,000ft view, so he looked for examples of companies that had their purpose front and centre. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation1 provided us with a strong example from which to model our approach.
At the highest level:
We believe that by enabling organisations to challenge the impossible on a large scale we can craft a better future for humanity.
Supporting this aim we have two core expeditions. These are aspirational aims that we may never fully achieve but drive us forward.
To design systems that enable organisations to achieve and sustain high performance.
To ensure our clients and other organisations we are involved with prosper and survive we believe their systems of value creation need to evolve in order to remain resilient and towards that aim we will help them enable evolutionary management systems.
To foster developmental cultures.
We believe that by building the right environment and investing in people, organisations can achieve great things. In order to help our clients attract, engage and retain the right people, we will help them enable ecosystems of learning, emergent learning practices and alternative leadership systems.
In order to achieve our two core expeditions above, we also developed two enabling expeditions.
To shape new management thinking.
We believe that by exploring, validating and then sharing ideas, approaches and technologies that are relevant to our customer’s missions, we can create exponential impact.
We plan to introduce new thinking to our capability toolkit and to cross-pollinate and introduce relevant insights from progressive organisational cultures to our clients and organisations we serve.
To role-model greatness.
We believe by role modelling great we can deliver value for our clients as well as the community and to provide an environment to foster exploration and continuous learning. We plan to promote new management paradigms through the implementation of progressive organisational cultures in the development of products and ventures for both ourselves and our clients.
Turning our strategic expeditions into actions
Traditionally, businesses take their vision and mission and translate these into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). But KPIs are focussed on the ‘what’, tend to be reflective, are only reviewed intermittently and are usually kept private.
Our expedition-based approach uses OKRs – Objectives and Key Results. These focus on both the ‘what’ and ‘how’. They are public, reviewed frequently and look ahead. Unlike KPIs, OKRs aren’t tightly coupled with compensation systems and support sensible risk-taking.
For many businesses, the focus on the ‘how’ and ‘what’ becomes so overpowering that the ‘why’ becomes lost. The expeditions we developed with the input of everyone in the business mean everyone is aligned on why we do what we do.
Like Apple’s customers, who are committed to a specific vision, we are journeying towards a future where our clients and all organisations we are involved with enjoy high-performance and resilient systems with enabling developmental cultures. It’s that ‘why’ that has become our target.