Tell me – what’s your purpose?

An earlier version of this was first posted on 2nd May 2013

sub purposeTo be clear about our work – namely, who we are serving, how to do the work, how to change, what is ‘good’, how to measure results, and what improvement looks like – we must be clear about one thing:

WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE?

Peter Scholtes was one of the clearest writers on this concept. For him, like Deming before, everything starts with purpose;  “Without a purpose there is no system”.

Until we have clarity of purpose, all we are doing is completing sets of tasks. ‘Purpose’ should be embedded in our thinking about work, people and organisations.

Scholtes offers an example to illustrate the importance of purpose:

“Cleaning a table cannot be a system until the purpose of the clean table is made clear. A table clean enough to eat on requires one system of cleaning. Clean enough to dance on requires another. Clean enough to perform surgery on requires yet another. Everything starts with purpose.

‘What is your purpose?’ is the most useful question one can be asked.” 

When thinking this way, work is transformed from being seen as tasks to carry out, to become a complelling reason to do something; a framework for making decisions and seeking ways to improve.

Read more:

Deming, W. E. (1993) The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, second edition. MIT CAES, Cambridge MA.

Scholtes, P. R. (1998) The Leader’s Handbook: A guide to inspiring your people and managing the daily workflow, New York: McGraw-Hill

Scholtes P.R. (1999) The New Competencies of Leadership, Total Quality Management, 10: 4&5, S704-S710.

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