Principles of Developing a Purpose/Vision

Vision is a combination of 'who we are' (purpose), 'where we are headed' (picture of the future) and 'how are we going to get there' (mission, behaviours and values) (source: Jake Jacob, 2021)

"...many visions are doomed from the outset because those who articulate them, whether consciously or not, are coming from a position of powerlessness. If we believe that someone else has created our present reality, what is the basis for believing that we can create a different reality in the future? When this happens, people formulate visions that are disconnected from a shared understanding of present reality and a sense of shared responsibility for that reality......they create, in a sense, an external vision which amounts to a kind of change strategy for fixing problems which they have not yet seen their part in creating. Only when people begin to see from within the forces that shape their reality and they see their part in how those forces......that vision becomes powerful.....this is why most visions that management teams come up with are superficial. Even if they embody a lot of good thinking, they're still a product of a fragmented awareness, and usually of one or two people's ideas imposed upon the group..."

Peter Senge et al, 2005

On the other hand,

"...when people in leadership positions......serve a vision infused with a larger purpose, their work shifts naturally from producing results to encouraging the growth of people who produce results..."

Peter Senge et al, 2005

. Maximum participation from key stakeholders in creating the purpose means that they will own it and speed up its implementation (stakeholders include customers, suppliers, employees, financiers and shareholders)

. The process of developing the purpose is as important as its realisation

. Purposes are best stated in the language of the key stakeholders for ease of communication and appeal to stakeholders

. A purpose helps to focus the strategic planning process; thus it needs to be developed before planning takes place and must extend beyond the numbers found in 5 year business plans

. Initially it can be blurry, and sometimes be initiated by one person and refined by others

. Needed to give direction to activities and projects involved in the change process

. It involves both the hearts and minds, and is always visually imaginable or exceptionally simple.

  • Power of positive messages in developing a purpose, ie combining placebo with empathy is a powerful combination, ie the dual impact of prescribing a pill coupled with a positive message about the likelihood of its efficacy can have a significant impact.

"...when somebody takes a pill, they remember what the doctor told them. A positive message about the medication activates the brain's reward mechanism, causing the patient's body to produce its own painkilling endorphins, which in turn make them feel better..." 

Jeremy Howick 2018 

Even when patients know that they are taking what is effectively a sugar-coated pill, they still feel better. This is like a "Pavlovian Response", ie like pain continues to subside. 

"...So although the efficacy of placebos may tempt us to conclude that it's all in the mind, this phrase is misleading. That placebos can work does not mean the pain is imaginary; rather that the brain can produce its own drugs..." 

Jeremy Howick 2018 

This approach is most effective for pain, depression and anxiety. 

NB this also stresses how damaging a focus on the negatives could be!!! 

"...It is not about lying to patients; it's about framing the truth in a positive way..." 

Jeremy Howick 2018


Looking at a set of values, statements (vision, mission, etc), etc to shape the culture. For these to be successful there are some patterns, eg

i) shorter or less is better than longer or more, ie 5 bullet points should be enough and is easy to remember

ii) need to be reinforced beyond repetition, ie
"...culture is almost like a religion......people buy into it and believe in it..."
Robert L. Johnson as quoted by Adam Bryant, 2017

iii) encourage behaviours you want to cultivate, ie what gets measured and how staff are given recognition and renumeration determines the way people behave, ie culture.
" can have your stated culture, but the real culture is defined by compensation, promotions and terminations. Basically, people see who succeeds and fails in the company defines culture. The people who succeed become role models for what is valued in the organisation, and that defines culture..."
Tae Hea Nahm as quoted by Adam Bryant, 2017

iv) need to be careful of being too ambiguous and open to interpretation, eg generic words like courage, respect, etc can be interpreted many different ways.


"...the actual work of leadership? It's the same, regardless of whether a man or a woman is in charge. You have to set of a vision, build cultural guiderails, foster a sense of teamwork, and make tough calls. All of that requires balancing the endless paradoxes of leadership, and doing it in a way that inspires trust..."
Adam Bryant, 2017

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