There are different stages of development when it comes to corporate purpose. But much of the terminology in this space is used interchangeably. What’s more, businesses often think that fixing one stage will either fix everything or enable them to skip a step, but this mindset ultimately leads to confusion around a business’s purpose, growth strategy and metrics for success.
In order for your teams to understand your business’s strategic priorities and goals, you need a clear intention—a purpose. Many of our clients have difficulty identifying which stage of development needs the most calibration.
For teams to understand your strategic priorities and goals, you need a clear intention—a purpose.
For instance, we recently worked with a manufacturing company that sought to redefine their corporate purpose. Their hope was that this renewed purpose would catalyze alignment within the organization and create a cohesive strategy and plan.
We first interviewed each member of the leadership team. It quickly became clear that, while a new corporate purpose would help solidify their business’s identity, what leaders needed most was: (a) an aligned direction for their teams; and, (b) guidance on how to execute that direction. In other words, they were thinking about the operational aspects of their corporate purpose, but they hadn’t yet aligned the strategic or foundational elements.
Stages of Development
Stage 1: Foundational
You need to understand your unique reason for being, the value you offer the world. Why do you exist? What are your corporate values? What do you believe in?
Stage 2: Strategic
This stage is where you turn your unique reason for being into a specific, strategic mission. What is your vision? What do you aspire to do in the future? How will you achieve this vision? And what will you prioritize as you advance your mission?
Stage 3: Operational
This final stage is where you operationalize your purpose, strategic vision and mission. What is your target for growth? In what segments or areas will you pursue your target? What do you have or need to achieve your objective? What is your metric for progress?
Can you see your corporate purpose throughout all three stages—foundational, strategic and operational? Or do those stages still hold new perspectives for you to discover? To find out, take our diagnostic below.
Diagnostic: How well developed is your corporate purpose?
1. Select the statement that best describes your organization’s strategy planning style.
a) Leadership provides minimal direction. Each line of business is responsible for setting its own priorities and strategic direction.
b) Leadership provides strategic priorities for the business, but it’s been hard to achieve them in-market.
c) Leadership provides strategic direction and growth targets, but teams will challenge the targets or struggle to put a plan together.
d) Leadership and management come up with strategic direction and targets together. You all work in perfect harmony to achieve your organizational goals.
2. Select the statement that you most often hear from your operational teams.
a) “Seems like we are trying to do (or be) too many things. We operate like we are many independent companies instead of one company with a clear objective.”
b) “I understand our company’s mission and growth target, but it’s unclear which priorities we are pursuing to hit those targets, and this increases our churn rate.”
c) “I don’t understand the direction or target that the organization has set. Why do we need to make changes anyway? If we keep doing what we are doing, we will continue to grow, so why bother with change?”
d) “I love our company’s direction and I love our leadership. Everything is crystal clear.”
3. As a leader, you often lie awake at night worrying about:
a) Your company losing relevance. It doesn’t seem to command the same market presence that it used to, and growth is slowing.
b) Using your company’s resources to the fullest. You know a pivot is needed, but you’re not quite sure what that is.
c) The inability of your teams to gel or work cohesively. If they were all working together, you could achieve so much more.
d) Nothing. You sleep great!
4. If you could change one thing about your organization’s current strategy process, you would create:
a) A clear process and governance structure for direction-setting and planning that everyone can follow.
b) A better way to assess and prepare for market shifts and consumer changes, and to use that knowledge to set clear priorities for the business.
c) A better way to get management and teams to understand the current priorities and collaborate more within the planning process.
d) Honestly, nothing. Your strategy process runs like a dream!
5. The current challenge that holds your organization back is:
a) Cohesion. Moving the business forward as one unit holds you back.
b) Strategy. Your business struggles to set priorities that will move you forward.
c) Alignment. Strategy development tends to be a political and organizational struggle, and your organization doesn’t always agree on a way to move forward.
d) Nothing. You’re the GOAT in your industry!
If you mostly answered ‘a’…
Then your organization is likely in the foundational stage of corporate purpose development. When leadership takes a hands-off approach to strategic planning, the clarity around the foundational (read: existential) elements like corporate purpose and values can erode. Symptoms include:
leadership that struggles to make decisions around what, where and how to grow
a company that lacks cohesion or unity around a central purpose or goal, and feels more like a bunch of small companies doing their own thing
This is common in businesses that have existed for some time, and since their inception, their market — and thus, their reason for existing — has become unclear. It can be difficult for teams to adhere to a strategy or operational plan for a market that is in flux.
If you mostly answered ‘b’…
Then your organization is in the strategic stage of development and is likely in need of a strategic renewal. Symptoms include:
no clear strategic direction and priorities as an organization, despite having a clear corporate purpose and corporate values
challenges with achieving growth targets, despite having defined what those growth targets should be
This is common in businesses that have robust and smooth operations, but have not looked outside of their business and market to keep up with changing contexts.
Look outside your immediate market or industry for changes that may influence how you do business. Using your unique capabilities and a fresh perspective on the market, you can expand the boundaries of your marketplace and set a new strategic direction for your organization.
If you mostly answered ‘c’…
Then your organization is likely in the operational stage and needs strategic alignment. Symptoms include:
challenges with translating priorities for teams, despite clear strategic direction and priorities for the business overall challenged with engaging teams around a clear execution plan This is common in organizations that engage in top-down strategy development: the strategy has been set by a few key stakeholders, while the rest of the organization lacks the context and intention behind the business’s direction. It is challenging for teams to execute a strategy that they haven’t bought into or been brought into.
Use working sessions, collaborative workshops and other tools to engage all levels of the organization in the strategy development process. This makes aligning capabilities and setting targets, plans and metrics a lot easier.
If you mostly answered ‘d’…
Then congratulations! Your organization has no foundational, strategic or operational challenges! Your business is positioned to thrive.
If your answers were some combination of a’s, b’s and c’s—don’t fret. We often work with teams who think they know where the gaps in their organizational thinking lie, but in reality, find a lack of alignment, clarity or guidance in unexpected places.
Did any of these quiz results surprise you? Do you think your organization could use a little help setting or solidifying your corporate purpose or strategic direction? Get in touch.