Three levels of purpose

One of the reasons teams struggle to define their purpose is that they can’t work out at which level of aspiration the purpose should be.

At a very basic level, pragmatic purpose is about relatively short-term accomplishments and survival. For example: “We’ve got to attract enough customers to stay in business”.

Grounded purpose takes a wider perspective and considers the impact the team wishes to have on its immediate environment or stakeholders. For example: “We are here to give patients the best treatment available, in a safe and supportive environment.”

Higher purpose is about longer term, more extensive impact. For example: “We help our customers achieve carbon neutral businesses” or “We aim to create a healthier society.”

The key here is that the team learns habitually to take all three perspectives and create connections between them. It’s inevitable that most attention is given to pragmatic purpose, but periodic benchmarking against grounded purpose and higher purpose establishes greater alignment within the team and with its stakeholders. Engaging stakeholders in these discussions enriches them and reminds the team why what they are doing day to day is worthwhile.

© David Clutterbuck 2023




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