The Purpose-Driven Organization

What’s the purpose of your organization? (No, that’s not a trick question.) Deb Lavoy and her colleagues at OpenText believe that answering that question is the first critical step every organization must take.

Putting their money where their mouth is, OpenText hosted on July 11 the first of what promises to be a thought-provoking series of conversations about the purpose-driven organization. The speaker at the event* was Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why. Drawing on examples as diverse as the civil rights movement, Navy SEALS, the Wright brothers, Apple and Disney, he explained that the primary role of a leader is to have a vision of the world as it can be, and then to articulate that purpose with enough clarity and energy so as to inspire others to work towards that purpose.

Granted it’s promotional material, but here’s a synopsis provided by his publishers:

In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way — and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be lead, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. WHY is not money or profit– those are always results. WHY does your organization exist? WHY does it do the things it does? WHY do customers really buy from one company or another? WHY are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?

Starting with WHY works in big business and small business, in the nonprofit world and in politics. Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.

Why does your organization need a well-articulated purpose? Simon Sinek believes that without a clear and compelling purpose, you cannot recruit, retain and inspire the highly motivated people who are so committed to a shared sense of purpose that they will move mountains to achieve it. It’s this willingness to go above and beyond that sets them, and ultimately their organization, apart.

For my readers in the legal industry, don’t assume that this conversation about purpose is only for our clients.  Bruce MacEwen writing at Adam Smith Esq covered some of this territory in Thoughts on IBM’s 100th: Idea or Product, where he attributes IBM’s nimbleness and longevity to its view of itself “not as an organization creating products but as an organization loyal to an idea.”  He then summarizes a list from The Economist of companies that are animated by ideas versus those focused on products:

  • IBM:  Package technology for use by business
  • Apple:  Package the latest technoology in simple, elegant form and sell it at a premium
  • Amazon:  Make it easy for people to buy stuff
  • Facebook:  Help people share things with friends easily
  • Dell:  Building PCs very very efficiently
  • Cisco:  Routers
  • Microsoft:  Windows

Taking this dichotomy straight to the door of law firms, he asks: “Are there firms premised on fealty to ideas and firms premised on selling products (practice areas)?” After naming a couple of firms that might be “idea” firms, and one sad example of a “product” firm, he reaches a sobering conclusion:

Alas, I suspect that law firms premised on a widely recognized idea are rare.   Many would insist they are idea-based, but dig under the surface and I bet you’ll find a mutating assemblage of practice areas and geographies without–in most cases–an overarching idea that all the partners could tell you in their sleep motivates the firm.

If he is right about this, how will firms recruit, retain and motivate excellent people? How can firms ensure their own longevity? Is it really just about paying market salaries?  I suspect it has a great deal more to do with the type of culture a firm nurtures, and the quality of the clients and work a firm attracts.

As we continue in this period of economic uncertainty, it’s worth considering whether your law firm, company, business unit, department, school or nonprofit has what it takes for the long haul.  You should start by asking WHY.


If you’d like to hear more about the importance of knowing your purpose, here’s Simon Sinek’s very popular TED Talk:


*Disclosure: This event was sponsored by OpenText and free to the public.

[Photo Credit: Godserv]


Google Plus and Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo would have hated Google+.  To be honest, she probably would have hated Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and MySpace as well.  However, after spending just a short while on Google+, I can see that it would really have given her hives.

For those of you who actually have been on vacation these last few days or away from a computer enjoying the summer weather, Google+ may not ring a bell. So here’s a quick overview of what it is and how it works:

First via Google’s vaseline-coated soft-focus lens:

Now, here’s a pithier review from CNETTV:

With Google+, you have the ease of Facebook- or Twitter-style sharing with the power of Google behind it.  Google+ gives you lots of opportunities to share content and then have an extended conversation regarding that content.  You can choose to share certain content with some folks but not others via the “Circles” organization scheme and Google+ Settings.  Once you’ve found good content, you can endorse or recommend it using the +1 Button. Further, because there don’t appear to be size restrictions, you won’t have to develop that special Twitter skill of compressing your pearls of wisdom into bursts of 140 characters or less. Best of all, you have the power of Google search to find interesting people (via their Google Profiles) and interesting content. If that isn’t enough, Google gives you the ability to video chat with a number of friends (called “Hangouts“) and have a private conversation with a select group of friends (called “Huddle“).  If there are particular topics that interest you,  try the Google+ “Sparks” function to find other aficionados.  Add to all of this the ability to instantly upload photos and videos, and you may begin to find fewer reasons to go to other social media platforms.

Now, back to Greta Garbo.  The film buffs among my readers will remember that she was notoriously reclusive.  She just wanted to be “let alone.” To someone of her disposition, Google+  would be tremendously troubling.  By providing so many useful functions in a single place, it offers a seemingly efficient means to contribute and consume content about family, friends, acquaintances and…celebrities. All in one place.  It’s powerful and it’s something with which Ms. Garbo never had to contend.

In fairness, Google has done a pretty good job of designing the user interface. As a result, it invites you in and tempts you to do almost too many things in one place. In theory, a dedicated Google+ user would no longer need Twitter, FB, Flickr or Skype, to name a few. That user could simply live in Google+.  And, once Google+ moves out of Beta testing and into the general population, you may discover that enough of your family, friends and acquaintances are on Google+ that you don’t need to go elsewhere to interact with them.

If Google+ provides a reasonable substitute for other social media channels, it could easily become my primary dashboard for online communications. One concern I have is that I liked the simplicity of having specific channels for particular types of communications (e.g., an RSS reader for sharing feeds, Twitter for general news, FB for personal updates, blogs for think pieces, FriendFeed for extended conversations with friendly geeks, etc.). Once everything is consolidated on a single platform, I fear that my social interactions (and this tool) may require a great deal more management on my part.

On top of all of this, it is as if Google is seducing users into bringing all of their social interactions onto a Google platform.  It makes me feel a bit like Little Red Riding Hood facing the Big Bad Wolf.  How on earth do we avoid getting eaten? Now Google knows with even greater clarity what we know, who we know and how we behave. It’s an advertiser’s dream. To be fair, Google has tried to address some of these concerns via its terms of service.  We’re told that Google has been paying attention to the infamous missteps of the FB team when it comes to privacy. Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore the sheer power and scope of coverage of Google.  In light of that, giving them even more of my life seems to be a step that should not be taken lightly.

Don’t get me wrong.  Google+ is definitely the sandbox to play right now — especially if you are even slightly geeky.  It’s the new toy in town and it’s fun. That said, some folks liked Google Wave and others were enthusiastic about Google Buzz. Check in with me later to see if I’ve succumbed or whether my inner Greta Garbo leads me to walk away.