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  • Writer's pictureApril Forum

Extraordinary Times, Extraordinary Questions

Updated: Jun 28

Headlines from our April Forum exploring why organisations exist and how they operate

The power of contemporary purpose

The power of a compelling organisational purpose - the ‘why’ - is still essential.

A powerful purpose can unite disparate business units, align participants across an extended ecosystem and liberate thinking about growth opportunities. Conversely, a purpose that is narrow, poorly formulated or generic can inhibit creative thinking or be too open to interpretation.

While organisation purpose is often defined as an ‘enduring reason for being’ that lasts decades, the context in which we operate today is changing so fast that it is now incumbent on leadership teams to examine purpose on a more frequent basis – perhaps every three years - in line with today’s accelerated, more frequent cycle of strategy refreshment.

A good test of purpose is whether you can measure how you are doing in fulfilling it. It takes care and discernment to choose and then communicate the most relevant measures and KPIs.

A new model for leadership?

The heroic, autocratic leadership role model is long gone, having been superseded by the ‘servant leader’. But now this model is showing signs of obsolescence. It’s no longer enough to set objectives, provide resources, moral support and remove barriers.

Perhaps we now need ‘strategic leadership’ where the leader is able to:

  • Inspire and engage the ‘whole’ person, driven by ‘the why’

  • Regularly review and reframe demand, purpose and vision, proposition, business and operating model

  • Create the (safe) space to think more frequently about purpose, values, strategy and performance

  • Provide the fulcrum between the competing pressures of driving today’s performance, tomorrow’s evolution and longer-term disruptive innovation

  • Lead ‘beyond’ the organisation, motivating and aligning adjacent organisations

Thinking beyond organisational boundaries

A fully integrated organisation with no reliance on suppliers and partners is now the exception. More than ever, it’s about structuring and influencing the extended value chain, the ecosystem, for the benefit of all participants.

In this context, a compelling shared purpose, investment in relationships and generous-spirited collaboration will win over procurement and contracting every time. And, of course, attention still needs to be paid to the essentials of governance and accountability.

Confronting the triple bottom line

There are signs of backlash in some quarters against the emerging ESG industry and its associated army of consultants and unaccountable indices and ratings.

A bit like change management, we can all agree that ‘we’ need to change but are less persuaded that ‘I’ need to change.

We are still some way off squaring the many (ESG) commitments and rhetoric with the investment and change those commitments imply. ESG experts have little to say about the transformational implications and traditional change consultants tend to be preoccupied with the technology they are incentivised to sell.

Board diversity

A lot of the conversation around diversity in general and board diversity in particular tends to focus on representation of women, ethnic groups and other minority groups.

Many boards do lack diversity, converging around groupthink with insufficient ‘grit in the oyster’ to address important strategic challenges.

While gender and ethnic diversity are welcome and necessary, what is perhaps more important is diversity of thinking – neurodiversity – within a safe psychological space where very different perspectives can be tabled and constructively channelled.

We believe that sustainable organisational diversity has to start with the board and will then flow to broader organisational culture and encouragement of diversity of thinking.

Listed laggards

Ownership structure might be the critical determinant of the long-term performance and sustainability of an organisation. Over recent years, two contrasting trends can be observed.

First, there has been an erosion of trust in corporations and governments, who are seen to be obsessed with the short term and often risk averse, constrained by quarterly earnings reports and election cycles.

Second, there has been a huge shift of capital from the public to private domains. Private capital takes a much longer-term view and is far more concerned about sustainability.

Many of the biggest investors and philanthropists are private individuals and companies and they tend to be much more modest than their virtue-signalling corporate counterparts. Perhaps a sustainable future lies with family offices, trusts and foundations rather than investment banks and stock markets?

Jobs without descriptions

In the old world, you couldn’t hire anyone without a well-specified job description setting out the role, responsibilities, the qualifications required etc. In today’s fast-moving VUCA world, a classic JD can be obsolete before the first candidate is interviewed. Nowadays, things evolve at such a pace that it’s hard to be sure what the JD is. Instead, people are looking more to recruit on the basis of:

  • VUCA-proof characteristics such as resilience, agility, growth mindset, curiosity

  • Affinity with purpose and values collaborative

Once you’ve found someone with those characteristics and good cultural fit, they’ll soon be able to write their job description for you to sign off!

Visit our forum web page for more information about our regular forum discussions.

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