Purpose and Promise

Artist Edgar Paxson famously envisioned a team's mission in Lewis and Clark at Three Forks. Doubtless the Corps of Discovery was a talented crew.

When executive Dan Schulman of PayPal described building success with the best people, his words were delivered with enthusiasm and his usual aplomb. Five words in his articulation would have been enough. He said, “Talent looks for a mission.” This was marvelous on many levels.

This multifaceted statement alone captures the essence of your identity and your firm’s identity. The best people are on a journey with vision and clarity. If your firm doesn’t have that clarity and insistence on the vision, the best talent will depart, boldly going where new visions are championed and heralded. Or they will create their own. The best people see themselves not as a cog in the wheel of an intangible process nor as a human widget, but as the lifeblood of a mission.

Whether you are the leader of PayPal, the department head of Marketing or, to quote a remarkable leader I knew in Digital Identity Management, “the CEO of your own career,” what is driving you? How can you sustain that drive?

If you are underselling your journey, remembering you are not Meriwether Lewis or William Clark, fix your outlook. So what if their names are written in national archives? Your journey is every bit as heroic, because it is yours. Inside your own skin and poised for your own dreams, your journey is not less than legendary, history-making milestones or myth-making treks. Not more, but not less either Greatness is not measured in fanfare, or it not ought to be. The American Corps of Discovery comprised of officers, trappers, hunters, navigators, female guide and black slave, found purpose in the westward adventure. They found it personally, and collectively. Okay, a couple guys laid down on the job and were booted. But the team was an extraordinary miracle – the personal missions and the Corps’ mission. Grueling days against insects, hunger, discomfort and danger were met and overcome. This venture was sanctioned by the American nation state and funded by the taxpayer, therefore, the so-called national conscience elevates the episode as a grander purpose than most. But the expedition was successful due to the acceptance and personal belief in the mission.

Embracing your own strategy and commitment toward a goal are rewards in and of themselves. Your investment in time and toil are returns in and of themselves. The precious minutes of your life are directed toward discovery and fulfillment, so live that way and remember it.

Looking for a mission elevates daily efforts toward your own grand purpose. If all that we find in our hunt for a mission is the placard on our desk or a wall poster in the company hallway, we face superficiality. The mission statement is only an artifact, without life and purpose. That artifact breathes and blows motion only if it is happening now, under your hands and your mind.

Some say that finding the grander purpose in your job and your effort is to find fulfillment. This can be misconstrued as seeing that purpose as distinct and separate from your own dream. Your personal mission commands and mobilizes the firm mission. Your view and your goals are the grander purpose; the firm achieves because of you. And if you don’t see the alliance of your purpose with the vision of the enterprise, then it’s time to seek another.

So we find ourselves committing to the mission, assigned roles in the organization and accountability to deliver. The operating model, driving that delivery, must be as clear and visible as the mission statement and the commitment of the teams.

Operating models can be simplified into the most rudimentary flow of action – inputs, processing, outputs. I recall an engineer who was tasked with diagramming the flow of a billing system and his opening slide was just that – Inputs, Processing, Outputs. I mean, literally. There were hoots and hollers in the room, some good-natured, others not, impatiently seeking substance, not superficiality. The engineer was not superficial. He actually would present details later in his presentation but his opening slide, misinterpreted as his final architecture, was his perfected method for taking us back to basics. Our teams sometimes forget their framework. What do we expect as inputs and what constitutes successful outputs? Every department has customers and their inputs depend on our outputs. The operating model, the team touch points, and the expectations of the intersecting departments boil down to those three concepts – Inputs, Processing, Outputs.

We often see operating models mistakenly presented as organizational charts. While the organizational charts provide understanding as to core competencies and demarcation of responsibilities (reporting lines), the conceptual flow between the departments is absent. The operating model supplements this view and reminds us of our daily purpose. The mission artifact is empty and dead without the process movement and touch points between accountability. The operating model highlights those points.

The inputs to your model should include the external factors of the macro landscape, and internal factors, demonstrating necessities that move from one functional group to another. External attributes include risk and movements of suppliers, competitors, regulatory and other institutions. The internal attributes will be internal customer feedback, hand-off metrics, and expectations of adjacent departments. In their most deceptively simple terms – Inputs, Processing and Outputs.

This approach also underscores and articulates your expectation of all departments and all professionals. Not just managers and executives, but everyone drives the mission within their own skill sets and daily expectations. In one way, Lewis and Clark had it easy – they could readily communicate their mission because the Corps was a manageable number – not quite 60 in participants. For larger entities, you’ll need to reiterate and remind, instill and insist on everyone’s view of the operating model; managers must carry the vision forward and discuss it with their teams, often.

In every professionals’ thoughts must be the external factors and internal expectations. The factors driving their success are occurring outside the firm, through customer preferences driven by dynamic aspects of the macro environment. Inside the firm the team must see factors moving among customers. What are the expected hand-offs and deliverables between departments? Each department is a customer of another department.. If that is not visible in the operating model, then the mission of each individual and each department shall leak opportunity. The firm will stall. Continue to ask if all professionals in the firm understand the holistic view of delivery, the mission, and the touch points/hand-offs that run that valuable machine.

Simplify the operating model in front of large groups. Ensure that managers of departments welcome a clear accountability and scope of action – one that fits inside the model.

Your operating model fuels the mission, and the best professionals look for that clarity.

The Corps of Discovery was a successful and historic adventure but usually forgotten were serendipitous successes along the way. Even if they did not reach the Pacific they would still have left their mark through exploration, findings and documented observations.

Talent looks for a mission.

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