Take Your Purpose & Make It Happen

Speaking to a close colleague of mine it became evident that whilst Companies have become used to establishing values and even purpose; it was still a massive challenge in ensuring that the whole organisation ‘gets it’ and ‘buys into it.’ He was lamenting on the fact that whilst he was pumped that a section of his organisation had finalized some ‘cut through’ symbols; the meaning of these continued to be misinterpreted by the organisation as a whole. As Stephen Scott Johnson would state, companies are inclined to ‘launch rockets’ rather than allowing ripples to permeate and stick.

Whilst Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle model is simple, it’s effectiveness is that it shows that whilst the ‘WHY’ is what people ‘buy,’ it is the combination of all the circles that creates the alignment. The ripples that ensure the engagement. All three parts are equally important. When those three circles are in balance we are at our natural best. We are truly living our WHY. And everyone in the organisation knows it.

While other organisations may express their WHY in a way that is similar to yours, it’s HOW you bring your WHY to life that makes you unique. As a result, the combination of your WHY and HOW’s is as exclusively yours as your fingerprint. Like the WHY Statement, refer defining your teams’ purpose  & building your team’s purpose HOWs are not aspirational. They do not express who we want to be. They express the manner in which we actually behave – the things we actually do – when we are at our best. They are the actions we can choose to take on a daily basis to help ensure that we’re creating the type of environment in which we thrive.

What is important is that a Companies’ HOW is not the same as it’s corporate values. In many cases, even though the values may be written in big letters on the wall, it is easy to ascertain if the employees actually know what they mean. If you ask a handful of people at different levels of the organisation what their core value of “integrity” means and you hear a handful of different answers, that is your sign.

Many of us have worked for a company that listed its core values on every conference room wall. Included were such garden-variety buzzwords as “honesty”, “hard work,” “diversity,” and yes, “integrity.” These values are all fine and good. But they are not HOWs.

Most companies don’t ground their core values in an understanding of how the organisation performs when it is at their best. Core values are generally aspirational. They express the qualities the company would like its employees to embody rather than those it actually displays. Remember HOWs are not aspirational. They do not express who we want to be. They express the ways we actually behave – the things we actually do – when we are at our best.

The other difference between HOWs and core values is that values are not, in and of themselves, actions. “Courtesy” is a value. “Treat people with kindness and respect” is a HOW. The distinction is even more important when the applications of a core value are not immediately apparent. Imagine someone coming to work on their first day of a new job and seeing a poster of the company’s core values in the cafeteria. Seeing the word “integrity,” they might think, “Okay, sure. But what do you want me to do?” Now imagine the same employee is given a copy of the companies Purpose (WHY statement) and sees the HOW “Always tell the truth.” Then later that day at the training they hear their supervisor say, “We do not misrepresent the effectiveness of our product even to make a sale.” In this case they’d probably say, “Got it! I can do that.”

If we expect people to live the core values of an organisation, we have to be able to tell them what those values look like in action. In other words, the HOW’s must be simple and actionable.

Narrow your themes so you have no more than five. Why five rather than six or seven? There is no science to this but in the many years of doing this exercise I have consistently found that the themes can be successfully boiled down to a maximum of five separate and distinct ideas. Above five options and the themes start merging.

Look for themes that express the same ideas, overlaps and redundancies. In the example above, “Protected loved ones” and “Feeling of safety” are very close in essence. If one felt more right that the other, that is the one we would keep. In this case we come up with a phrase that draws on both: “Making others feel safe”

We turn themes into HOWS by making them actionable. It’s possible that some of your themes will already be in the form of a verb or action, which is great. For those that are traits or adjectives, here’s how to proceed.

After digging into the stories, we agreed that “Find the positive in everything” really embodied what they meant when we wrote down the theme “Optimistic.” The other themes in the list are pretty close and just need a tweak to become actions:

Notice how the simple shift in language turns these passive words or phrases into actions we can actually perform on a daily basis.

Make sure the words you use resonate with you and remind you of the stories behind them. It’s this emotional connection that will inspire you to put these HOWS into action.

Once you have articulated your HOWs you can strengthen your relationship to them by writing a short description that gives each one some context and suggests what it might look like in practice. In fact, keep them as simple as you can. That makes them easier to put into action.

As you begin to share your vision, purpose and values with others, use stories to bring it to life. The energy and emotions evoked by those stories is the key to being able to communicate what you stand for. More importantly, for your HOWs to stick and for purpose to convert to action; it is imperative that your employees share stories that convey the meaning of these statements. It is the spreading of these rockets that will drive a thriving culture. Much better than an expensive rocket launch ever could.

Good luck on the journey!

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