Reinventing Organizations – Be guided by Purpose, not Profit

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Reinventing Organizations


Have you ever tried to ask people around you what they think about their company’s mission statement ? If you get an answer (not everyone does even actually remember it !), you will tend to get a rather cynical answer, or neutral at best. But very rarely will you see someone inspired and pumped up by their company’s purpose. Why is that ?

Is there not some truth in what Frederic Laloux describes in « Reinventing Organizations »? :
“People have become cynical about mission statements because in practice they don’t drive behavior or decisions. Executives, at least in my experience, don’t pause in a heated debate to turn to the company’s mission statement for guidance, asking, “What does our purpose require us to do?”

Should indeed the company’s mission not be the ultimate compass by which things are done and decided ?

So if the collective purpose isn’t what drives decision-making, what does? It is the self-preservation of the organization. The fear-based nature of the ego in Red, Amber, and Orange predisposes leaders and employees to see the world as a dangerous place with competitors everywhere trying to steal their lunch. The only way to ensure survival is to seize every opportunity to make more profit and to gain market share at the expense of competitors. In the heat of the battle, who has time to think about purpose? Sadly, this fear-based fixation on competition plays out even when the self-preservation of the organization is not in doubt.”

What if instead each employee could be the pillar of the overall company’s purpose ?
As I was reading the book, and because I have worked mostly in what Laloux describes as Amber Orange organizations, I found it difficult at first to believe that the company mission could indeed be that ultimate compass. Don’t we after all work in a corporate world which produces 70% of disengaged workers ?
What if indeed I could change my « glasses » and turn it upside down . Think purpose and mission first !

With the transition to Evolutionary-Teal, people learn to tame the fears of their egos. This process makes room for exploring deeper questions of meaning and purpose, both individually and collectively: What is my calling? What is truly worth achieving? (…). In many of the organizations researched for this book, the overarching purpose is not only a statement on a plaque at the reception desk or in the annual report, but an energy that inspires and gives direction”

Some of you might think that this can only lead to a total disaster, certainly from a financial standpoint. The paradox, of course, is that while the companies researched in the book do not have an obsession with growth, they all have fantastic growth records.

As Laloux writes,

Teal practices unleash tremendous energies; when these energies meet a noble purpose and a deep hunger in the world, how could anything but growth ensue?
The for-profit organizations researched for this book have a different perspective on profit. Profit is necessary and investors deserve a fair return, but the objective is purpose, not profit. Several of the organizational founders used the same metaphor: profit is like the air we breathe. We need air to live, but we don’t live to breathe.
In Teal Organizations, profits are a byproduct of a job well done. Philosopher Viktor Frankl perhaps captured it best: “Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” This idea is another great paradox: by focusing on purpose rather than profits, profits tend to roll in more plentifully.”

And when everyone in the company is indeed driven by purpose, everyone is all in ! People will not turn sight if they see something not working for which they know there is a solution. With the purpose as a guiding light, everyone, individually and collectively, is empowered to sense what might be called for. And because everyone becomes a living cell in action serving what the company is called for, all the ego-driven behaviors won’t surface.

Strategy happens organically, all the time, everywhere, as people toy with ideas and test them out in the field. The organization evolves, morphs, expands, or contracts, in response to a process of collective intelligence. Reality is the great referee, not the CEO, the board or a committee. What works gathers momentum and energy within the organization; other ideas fail to catch on and wither”

And in the process, we are invited to bring our full self to the workplace

Teal paradoxical thinking invites us to transcend this either-or dichotomy: we can be both fully ourselves, and be working toward achieving an organization’s deeper purpose. We don’t need to reject parts of ourselves to be in service. It’s just the opposite: we are at our most productive and joyful when all of who we are is energized by a broader purpose that nourishes our calling and our soul”

In conclusion, I also wanted to share a very interesting perspective which Frederic Laloux mentions in his book.
PurposeNorman Wolfe suggests in his book “The Living Organization” an insightful distinction between three types of energy fields in the workplace: Activity, Relationship, and Context. With Activity, he refers to the energy of action, the “what we do and how we do it.” Relationship refers to the energy brought to the interactions; what we say, how we say it, how we relate to each other. Context in turn is the energy of meaning and purpose, of connection with a larger whole.

Sometimes, Activity is all there is. It is no surprise, then, that leaders in traditional organizations naturally focus their energy on the Activity field, the problem solving, decision-making, trouble-shooting, and so forth. Most of them view the field of Relationships as a necessary evil, an area they need to invest some time in, because sometimes interpersonal frictions threaten to slow down the machinery. The energy field of Context is often outside of their conscious focus altogether.

As explained in Frederic’s book, the distinction of Context, Relationship, and Activity gives a way to frame the magic. When the energy field of Context is healthy and powerful, Relationships are healthy and powerful too. And then, what in other circumstances causes time and energy to be wasted in the field of Activity simply disappears. Nothing stands in the way of getting work done

How would you say this energy is flowing at your own workplace ?

Series Navigation<< Reinventing Organizations – From Performance Management to Inquiry and CelebrationReinventing Organizations – Towards Evolutionary – Teal >>

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