Back in 1996 the Harvard Business Review published Building Your Company’s Vision, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, and the business world was given instructions on how to leverage meaning for results.
The article more deeply explored the author’s ideas about what a great company’s “core ideology” looks like, why it matters, and how to create one.
This was a concept from their critically acclaimed book Built to Last, which presented findings from a study of 18 exceptional companies that had greatly outperformed the stock market over 60 years. It was found that all these companies had a core ideology (purpose and values), that remained fixed, while their business strategies continually adapted to the changing environment.
The authors’ specific set of instructions on how to define a company’s core values and purpose set off a 20-year tidal wave of executive workshops across the business world. It’s now become common wisdom that every great company has documented the purpose and values from which they operate.
At the same time, the people working in these companies also see that there’s a difference (and often a major difference) between what’s written on the walls, and what’s actually happening in practice.
It’s also been a disillusioning experience for the executives, who found that writing down the ideology was the easy part. Hiring people who genuinely share the same beliefs, and holding true to the ideology in all practices proved to be extremely difficult.
When the team here at Fitzii decided to adopt a “Teal” self-managing structure in February of 2014, we also bought in to a different way of looking at the purpose and ideology of our company.
It all came about after we discovered Frederic Laloux’s ground-breaking book, Reinventing Organizations, which starts by describing different organizational paradigms in existence (each one labelled a color). The book then deeply explores the newest paradigm, called Teal, and what it looks like in practice.
There are three main pillars that define Teal organizations – self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.
We’ve been building practices at Fitzii in these areas and then blogging about our experiences with them. After a recent post that reviews our first year without a top-down structure, we received this nice comment (and nudge) from the author of Reinventing Organizations:
So voila Frederic – here’s our thoughts on how Fitzii has shifted into an evolutionary purpose.
But First, What the Heck is Evolutionary Purpose?
In the Teal organizational paradigm, no one person or team of people runs the organization. The company is a separate entity, like an ecosystem, which moves collectively and organically. We are all stewards of the organization, listening to where it wants to go and helping it to fulfill its purpose.
For organizations like Fitzii, the purpose of the company isn’t dictated from above, or ever set in stone. Rather, the purpose is considered to be evolving as the organization evolves. In this view, no one “creates” the purpose. It changes as people’s own callings, beliefs and passions changes, and at any point people can “listen” in and try their best to document it.
There is an excellent wiki about Teal and Reinventing Organizations, whose page on Evolutionary Purpose does a better job of explaining how it works. It also presents the difference between evolutionary purpose and a typical mission or vision statement:
“A vision statement usually reflects the ego-driven state of consciousness of the management team, who decide what they want the organization to be. The evolutionary purpose of a Teal organization reflects the deeper reason the organization exists. It relates to the difference it wants to make in the community it operates in, as well as in the marketplace it serves. It is not concerned with competition or outperforming others; it is serving the ‘greater good’ that matters.”
This ends up feeling very different for the people inside the company, as “the ego driven desire for self-preservation is replaced by a powerful drive to do work that has meaning and purpose. The concept of ‘being the best’ becomes a hollow aim unless the organization is doing something worthy of the energy, talents and creativity of the people who work there.”
For someone like me, who had previously felt compelled to create purpose statements, define core values, and attempt to “create” culture, it’s also taken a major load off my shoulders. Instead of trying to force things on the organization, I simply need to do my part by listening to it, and trying to make the most positive impact I can.
Listening for our Evolutionary Purpose
In the summer of 2015 the entire Fitzii team went on a two day off-site in which one session was our first attempt to listen to our evolutionary purpose, and then discuss and document it.
The format was pretty simple. Ahead of time we were are asked to reflect on and evaluate how we’d done in the three elements of our currently documented purpose, which was:
- Help organizations hire better
- Connect people with meaningful work
- Provide a great return (financial + culture impact) on the Ian Martin Group’s investment (our parent company)
Then in the session we used sticky notes to capture everyone’s feedback, before we grouped and synthesized them. In the discussion we had some realizations, like how we could have put more focus on helping jobseekers.
We also checked in with everyone about whether these three elements were still an accurate description of our evolving purpose (they were), and whether we needed to add or change anything. In that discussion, we realized that we had actually sprouted another branch of purpose. There was a lot of energy around leading by example and doing our part to help “make business better for people and planet.”
After the dive into our purpose, we also did the Vision and BHAG exercises that Collins and Porras described in their article. But instead of locking these ideas down and writing them on the wall, we took them to be the current collective sense of where we hoped to go, and was subject to change.
Even though we didn’t come away with any fancy posters, it was a highly valuable exercise, because we had a few realizations that ultimately impacted our evolving goals and strategies.
For instance, we realized that we are more interested in increasing hiring success rates overall, and helping many thousands of organizations hire a bit better, rather than helping a small number of organizations hire a lot better.
We also realized that we deeply care about eventually being a model business and leader in the Teal movement, who could help other organizations make the jump into this new paradigm. Hearing these things so clearly from the group then led into the objectives and strategies that we adopted in the shorter term.
Driven to Make the Most Difference
It was not only valuable to engage with our evolutionary purpose at the annual off-site. Our purpose is always there, crafting our orientation, and informing decisions.
One way that the new view towards purpose changed things was when our business went through a major pivot. We realized that our current offering was too similar to other technologies, and was in many cases serving clients who were already hiring quite well. If we didn’t exist, some other company would fill our place, and the world wouldn’t be much different.
We were led by our purpose to explore not just what would be most profitable, had the most revenue potential, or was the surest path to success. We looked for a market whitespace where we could best serve the under-served, and make the biggest impact on hiring effectiveness.
We had seen that smaller organizations are spending twice as much per-hire as large companies, with worse results, because they lack the advantages of dedicated recruiters and fancy tools. There isn’t a single company offering totally free hiring software + affordable services for these smaller organizations, so within our purposeful context it was a relatively easy decision to completely pivot our offering.
Allies, Not Competitors
Another noticeable shift as we adopted an evolutionary purpose was predicted by Laloux when he said that Teal organizations are “not concerned with competition, or outperforming others”.
I’d say that before we shifted into Teal we definitely had a sense of who our competitors were, and how we compared to them. We were driven this way by a sense of scarcity – we were after the same customers who would only pick one provider.
Our views changed as we focused on the greater good, created a truly differentiated offering, and worked to help clients who didn’t have comparable options otherwise.
Other companies that had been considered competitors are now more like allies helping to address some of the same problems, but in a different way. Instead of scarcity, there is an abundance of opportunity for anyone to help solve these hiring challenges. Improving hiring success rates for small organizations isn’t a job Fitzii can do alone, and if we encounter a potential client who isn’t the right fit for our services, we’ll happily recommend others.
The Evolution of our Evolutionary Purpose
There’s been a big shift at Fitzii, but of course it’s not all unicorns and rainbows.
In his book Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan presented a framework of this shift from a competitive company orientation (Stage Four), to a cause-driven allies view (Stage Five). Logan states that few organizations get into this Stage Five orientation, and stay there for long periods of time. This has been our experience as well.
We’re not consistently of the same bigger purpose view at all times. Each person at Fitzii operates from unique perspectives and drivers. We’ve each had times where we’ve succumbed to pressures or fears, and adopted a scarcity or ego-driven mindset. Our documented purpose is always there with the potential to lift us up and out of these lower spaces, but our collective purpose is a helluva lot messier than those four aspirational elements.
I believe that our shift to viewing the reason why Fitzii exists as evolutionary, instead of fixed, has made a great difference to how meaningful our work is, and also to how effective we are. It’s a journey in and of itself, as the adoption of this perspective is gaining steam, and we’re getting better at listening instead of advocating, and operating more from our drive to serve, and less from self-preservation.
Again, Laloux nailed what it has been like in a passage from Reinventing Organizations:
“With the transition to Evolutionary-Teal, people learn to tame the fears of their egos. This process makes room for exploring deeper questions of meaning and purpose, both individually and collectively: What is my calling? What is truly worth achieving? Survival is no longer a fixation for Teal Organizations. Instead, the founding purpose truly matters.”
If you have any questions about how purpose has been evolving at Fitzii, or if have your own experience with organizational purpose to share, we’d love to discuss this further in the comments. And of course, we’d also like to hear how Frederic thinks our practices compare with other Teal organizations (consider yourself re-nudged).
Brooks Tanner says
Good stuff. Thanks, Edwin!
Edwin Jansen says
Thanks Brooks – we appreciate your continued interest. Anything in this particularly resonate with you, or was anything surprising?
Brent Lowe says
Hey Edwin – Great article. I’ve been pondering the source of evolutionary purpose. After reading your article, I asked my network for their thoughts on one of the paragraphs in the article. Not only did I get responses, my question led to another blog post. http://dadamacconnect.london/emerging-purposes-callings…/
Edwin Jansen says
That’s interesting Brent. Have you heard anything from people which is a different angle on evolutionary purpose?
Katherine Taylor says
Hi Edwin Well written. I especially like the part about helping people find their calling. This line speaks volumes to me!
Edwin Jansen says
Indeed, it’s also like the evolutionary purpose is a calling out, and then some people who hear it want to join in…
Jon Lay says
Nice post, Edwin! We did something very similar to this a year ago at Hanno and found it to be very valuable.
Especially so, since there were so many things we were interested in pursuing and we were lacking a really clear and focused direction and mission statement that we could communicate. That wasn’t just valuable internally, but also externally, because people were constantly saying “we love what you guys are doing and we’d love to help, but we don’t see where we can do that”. Having that clear purpose was a real boost!
We wrote about our own post-it note team retreat for evolutionary purpose over here, although we didn’t have a good term for what we were looking for at the tme: https://logbook.hanno.co/rethinking-social-purpose-croatia/
Nancy Khan says
Nice read! Edwin, I want to know how a CEO can encourage employees to talk about how they wish their company should look like. I think this will help everyone to frame a path and move towards the goal. There are people who just work for the company and others who shape the company’s future for better. I would really like to know how can I motivate my people.
Edwin Jansen says
Nancy in my experience the biggest barrier is often empowerment – check out the book ‘The Decision Maker’, by Dennis Bakke. It’s a business parable about increasing empowerment and pushing decisions to those closest to the action. And when you do that the result is usually much greater engagement and ownership.
Dirk Propfe says
Great post! Thanks for sharing Edwin. Have you come across the work of Tim Kelley? He talks about different aspects of purpose which I really feel help clarify and deepen the discovery of purpose. Here is the description of the different aspects and an example of a Teal Organization (Enlivening Edge) who has started communicating its purpose through those lenses:
> “Essence is the most fundamental aspect of purpose, and the most difficult to describe. It is the aspect of purpose that is pure being, without doing. You are your purpose, even when you are standing still or asleep. This component of purpose is usually the most unconscious, that is, the least apparent to you. This most basic state of our being has an impact, however. It is subtle and pervasive. Everyone you meet is affected by it, whether they are aware of it or not.”
> “Blessing is the bridge between being and doing. It is when your essence moves into action. Think of it like this: You are a catalyst, a facilitator of some process. You do this process with those around you, probably unconsciously. Certain people need your process, and they are naturally drawn to you and you to them. This process is pervasive. You have done it in some form in every job you’ve ever held and in every significant relationship you’ve ever had. You have been doing it since you were very young. When you are most successful and most fulfilled, you are doing your blessing.”
> “A mission is just what it sounds like: a specific task that needs to be performed…A mission can take many forms. It can be an instruction to serve a specific group of people, a problem you have been designed to solve, or a change that you are to create in the world…Your mission is invariably a specific application of your blessing and essence. While there may be many ways you could do your blessing, your mission emphasizes a particular way or a particular outcome. It may ask you to use your blessing with a particular group or to have some specific impact.”
Here are the different aspects of Enlivening Edge’s purpose:
EE Essence: *Nourishing the conscious evolution of people, organizations, and social systems.*
EE Blessing: *Weaving people, knowledge, and inspiration to strengthen the eco-system of next stage movements.*
EE Mission: *Co-creating a vibrant community and experiential opportunities to enliven next-stage organizations and initiatives.*
How does this land with you? We will likely do a similar exercise at Unleash and I am considering reaching out to Tim Kelley to do a workshop around this at the UnleashTO Space. Let me know your thoughts and feelings around it!
Edwin Jansen says
Thanks for adding this Dirk. I had never heard of these different views of purpose but they make sense to me. Companies seem to be quiet focused on “mission”, when listening to the “blessing” and seeing how it operates is probably just as useful. Interesting that we had our second annual purpose listening session just last week and we found a theme and visual which tied our EP together very nicely. It was to “redeem work”. We don’t believe work should be a dirty word, with any negative connotations. It’s very much our “blessing” to move into action when we see opportunities to improve the nature of work for people.