Organizatioal Purpose

What is Inside Matters

The Business Traveler’s News released its 2011 ranking of major US hotels.  In reviewing the report, it is interesting to see that curb appeal does not always equate to the highest overall ranking.  Hyatt Place leads the way on physical appearance but finishes fourth in the overall ratings.  It provides a reminder that some of the best work is being done by those who built their enterprises from the inside out.  If there is a clarity of purpose then the exterior is a reflection (and result) of the core.

Putting It In the Center

During a recent strategic planning engagement a retreat participant asked what would happen if we placed the organization’s purpose statement (Start With Why) at the center of the cause’s plan.  Radiating out from the purpose statement were eight strategic goals that had been identified.  It suddenly brought the plan to life for many in the room.  The plan was not bound like a book with a table of contents.  Instead, each strategic initiative was directly linked to what the organization believes.  A subtle change in context and presentation suddenly brought exponentially more meaning to the enterprise’s vision for the future.

Great Advocate With Questionable Resource Allocation

I heard Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones to Schools speak.  I was moved by his commitment and ability to work in such a challenging cultural and geographical environment.  Suddenly, I find myself at a crossroads.  Is Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute‘s purpose consistent with its actions? 60 Minutes took a look at his organization’s work and the narrative that has become the backbone of his pitch.  60 Minutes video here

Update: The New York Times ran an article this morning with more information.

Surging Ahead of Just Keeping Up?

Attending a board meeting for an independent school today, I was struck by the realization that we had not only accomplished some of our strategic initiatives but had surged off the scale.  Incredible momentum.  How had we done this?  The Head of School has been telling the school’s story for years and expressing a vision that far exceeded the scope of the plan.  He was dreaming big but not focusing on the details.  He could tell his audience why the project was important.  At the right moment a confluence of circumstances such as budgeting (a reduction in building costs), momentum  (very motivated donors), and talent (board members with immense experience as project managers) produced an oppening to realize an even greater dream.  Equally important was the attribute of trust.  The Board and Head of School trusted that the vision was revolutionary and essential.

The Head of School has been telling the school’s story, creating a following of those who were ready to invest in taking the dream across the matrix and into reality.

How big is your enterprise’s dream and who is sharing the vision?


How many of our key organizational activities resemble the game Mastermind?  We are constantly striving to find the right sequence of actions and feedback to solve the puzzle.

  • Foundations: identify, letter of inquiry, personal connections, grant request, expense grant, report back, reapply
  • Board Members: identify prospects, cultivate, elect, orient, engage, evaluate, train, celebrate
  • Donors: identify, cultivate, ask advice, engage, ask, celebrate
  • Programs:propose, budget, fund, execute, evaluate

We are constantly seeking feedback on our progress. We put forward our best guess and hope it matches the sequence of our funders, community, and customers.  It is easy to get so focused on the next step that we forget the outcome.  Simon Sinek offered the following thought:

“Focus on where you’re going and you’ll know what steps to take. Focus on the steps you’re taking and you won’t know where you’re going.”


This morning greeted me with the sound of honking horns and ten minutes of emergency sirens.  I rolled out of bed and went to the fitness center for a workout.  I did not feel the need to look out the window or turn-on the TV for a news update.  In New York City for meetings, I expect the urban background noise and would worry if it were too quiet.  However, had the same racket been produced in my neighborhood in Boise I would have grabbed a phone and perhaps a large stick as I headed for the front door.  Why does the same set of circumstances cause no alarm in one setting and would come closer to panic in another?

Environment sets expectations.  Live near a hospital and you expect sirens, fly on a stormy day you can anticipate turbulence, or engage with a nonprofit and you can expect an unquenchable thirst for resources.  Of course, not all of these conditions are true all the time but the expectations can be set.

It makes me wonder what expectations we are setting as our members of the social sector.  Do we perpetuate the perspective or create a new paradigm?  Are we the best kept secret or the cornerstone of the community?  Are we explaining what value we add to the community or do we express what we need from the community?