117: Purpose for Organization


Podcast Show Notes: #117

Sponsored by Numi Tea

Carol’s Question for us: Examine how creating a purpose-driven organization and the value it has for getting employees fully engaged and energized about the business.

A Purpose Driven Organization- Harvard Business Review

  • The July-August Harvard Business Review had a cover story on creating a purpose driven organization and the value it has for getting employees fully engaged and energized about the business.
    • Recommendation from authors, Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor, were practiced by Carol colleagues in the late 1960s through 1980s.
    • According to Carol there was a demand for a different way to do business and it is not enough or even directly the best option.
    • This article was presenting stories of where people become more engaged through one method, giving them purpose for their work.
      • What is not explored is how staying in power delivers better than other methods.
  • 90% of people work for someone else and do not own their own labor. Only 20% of people enjoy their job and feel engaged. 91% of business (1/3 large and 2/3s) hire a few employees.
    • That is bad news for both employees and employers. Business owners have few people who care for their customers and success of the business. Employees go to work every day to do something that does not give them any fulfillment through meaning or accomplishment.  And they give back about the same, but enough to keep their job.

A Wholistic framework- Outlined by the Harvard Business Review

8 essential steps

  1. Envision an inspired workforce. As a leader, convince yourself it is possible through finding examples that show up in your life and from stories of others doing so. Build the courage and belief that it is possible.
  2. Discover the Purpose of the Business- look to what makes it meaningful to you employees because it is meaningful to the customer or consumer. This is to be discovered, not made up.
  3. Recognize the Need for Authenticity. If your employees think you are doing to change them, it will not work. It will be manipulative and without integrity and seen for what it is. They know when the going gets tough, you will abandon it— and them.
  4. Make the Purpose Message a Constant Drumbeat. Reference and embed it in everything to reinforce the commitment. Have all leaders deeply engaged and including it in everything.
  5. Stimulate Individual Learning. Tie all employees natural interest in learning and growing. Give people challenges that shows you faith in their ability to figure things out. Help them understand the relationship between their own job and the higher purpose.
  6. Turn Mid-level Managers into Purpose Driven Leaders. Teach them to talk about purpose and meaning. And the tell compelling stories about their own sense of personal identity and professional purpose. Make it tangible and believable by having authentic support from mid-level managers. No faking it.
  7. Connect Your People to the Purpose. Get employees connect the purpose to their day to day tasks. Ask people to share how they are making a difference on their purpose from their own work. Creating posters that describe what they do in the company that points to the purpose and their specific challenge in it. Put into memorable slogans that can be remembered.
  8. Unleash the positive energizers. Enlist the network of positive energizers who naturally have a positive orientation. Spread them across the organization where they take initiative and help other trust that this is happen. Foster buy-in by helping people associate with these energizers. They help people see the practical implications of the purpose for performance of people, the financial health of the business and competitiveness in the industry. The energizers communication purpose with clarity. They transform the whole organization.

A regenerative perception of the eight essential steps

  • After trial and error, Carol and colleagues reconstructed the eight essential steps to mold a successful systemic process.
    • There are so many fragmented and incomplete ideas in this article but without the larger frameworks, it looks so much better than the horrible places that so many people work. So, it seem scary, the idea of negating this.
    • Imagine if there are four levels of possibility and effectiveness and we are so happy because what we have is better than the less than great stuff we were experiencing before it showed up.
      • If we don’t know there is a level 3 much less a level four, then we stay clinging to the better which becomes the enemy of the best or most effective. That is actually what is happening with the article or so much other work in the world that wants to make things better.
    • The simplest and most often used tool for discernment, in the world, is polar contrast. That is, “Which is better between two choices?”
      • We learned in school there are two choices, two opposites. We must choose. Or a string of twos. One of four choices. Always forced choice.
    • What will benefit us more in our critical thinking is a systemic framework that serves as a true reference for the whole of the possibilities so we can see the value behind the choices.
      • The systems framework becomes explicit, rather than intuitive, as to how each option can lead to a different order of ends, not just to the options of  bad or better than bad choice.
      • We need a living systemic understanding of how things work in a situation as a way to discern what all the choices are and the potential they portend.
      • We need frameworks that organize and order for us how to make choices from a comprehensive understanding. Ones that are based on living, dynamic, real living systems. Otherwise, we do as Herbert Simon (the Nobel prize winning economist) called, satisficing- take the first better than bad choice we conceive of.
        • That is what we use at Business Second Opinion and Carol Sanford Institute to examine articles and books to see what is missing and what is, and maybe event invisibly, erroneous.
        • This forced choice, with unexamined consequences, leads to do what I call Satisficing.
          • Satisficing, is doing something better than the bad stuff and then getting stuck on the idea, that because it is better, that it is the right way, the best way, or even the only other option.


Carol’s Living Systems Rubric

As Herbert Simon would say, “The overall idea is too small and incomplete; It is a victim of Satisficing”. This is the beginning of why there is a Need For Living Systems view is critical. That means how things work in a dynamic, engaging work to resource life overtime. Carol offers five premises that are used as a reference for assessing ideas. They come from a Living Systems rubric of sorts rather than a Human Potential Paradigm. It is about all of life and how it works and not just humans.

    1. Start with Systems Actualization to awaken a caring form of external  considering, rather than empathy form.  Focus on the outside and connect agency. It requires working at multiple Levels of work, or complexity, not just improved operation of their tasks. You are thinking about how to evolve something while you do it. What is essential to the vitality of the system as a whole, beyond just getting specific work done.
      1. HBR: Working from self-actualizing, at best,  with individuals. Maslow led us on a wild goose chase by borrowing someone else’s ideas and doing so incompletely. Using Self-actualizing as the pinnacle leads us also to misunderstand his hierarchy of needs. It is not about building stairs to climb, but a way to view the same work from different planes of potential. Different perspectives rather than achievements.
        1. Much assumption about how need to start with where people are and build a foundation is missed.
    2. Work from Essence of the Business and its Corporate Direction expressing that uniqueness with customers and engaging essence of Markets rather than bettering Existence of current customers.
        1. HBR starts with a problem and works from there. E.g. people are not engaged and need to be. Purpose is known to do this for people, so let’s help them find purpose. A personal purpose. Find a heart-resonant connection with the customer for why they do their work.
        2. This is a satisficing idea since it is so much better than unengaged employees and it actually works. But is not particular the level at which to stop if you want to grow and business and position it non-displaceable in its market. There are better ways to get the engagement that have the ability to grow the business 35% or more in revenues, per year, and grow the people to be smarter and more innovative, bonding them to the company and their customers. But you can’t stop with the idea of tied workers to customer’s need for them.
    3. Work on Development of all beings rather than Performance. Personal agency is the real fulfillment of a work setting and it come from initiating an evolutionary change in the stakeholder’s, particularly customer’s life, rather than satisfaction of a sensitive energy


  • HBR us working from a very old paradigm of the human potential movement of getting people to bring more of their potential to the job. More fully express. It is a step about using them for the purpose of the business by driving them with incentives or worse, fear and demands. But it is still getting them to give more and to necessarily doing what creates a more extraordinary human with each person. It is not about using potential, but about growing their ability to contribute and express what is unique about them. In fact, there is no starting from the Essence of an individual and connecting it to the Essence of the customer or stakeholder. It is about finding a purpose in what the current work is we do for them, generically for the customer and generically for the worker. Again, better than the old way, a satisficing step, but not a living system way of working.
  • To do this you need a different work design which I lay out in The Regenerative Business. It activates a more demanding and compelling framework for engaging workers that ties together the non-displaceable direction for a business based on its Essence and creates a lattice into which individual workers bring their promises to evolve the customer’s lives, not meet their requirements, based on their own innovation. It triangulates the business, the customer and each worker and projects them into the future rather than link a worker with a customer as they are currently counted on but with improved performance.


  1. Design Work promote Self-to-self interactions rather than improved Role to Role engagements. This is the real problem with hierarchies is people do not think about what they think but about what others want them to think.
    1. HBR idea is very hierarchical, benevolently so, but hierarchical. It is based on the modern idea of leaders that inspire others, lead with openness and believe in their workers. A strong aspect of the human potential movement. Again, so much better than the old command and control approach which leaves us with a satisficing option.
    2. The living systems approach is to switch to individuals all speaking to one another as unique people with ideas to be examined. The role of a supervisor/manager if they exist is to develop persons to think more completely and to have more self-mastery as a pursuit. Not to be the one who finds great answers, inspiriting and informed ones, and give them to the workforce through open videos, pep talks and information on the results. Each of the eight steps in the Purpose-driven organization article are initiated and led from a new type of leader that still reigns.
    3. It is not about getting rid of supervisors as Holocracy recommends. It is about shifting roles so that initiating is from workers who are developing full responsibility for the success of specific customer nodes in their market and not being handed the work assignments and evaluation of success. It is truly moving the mind of each worker external to the business and planting it squarely in an amazing possible future for a customer based on what will make the customer fully able to realize their Essence potential. Now the worker has a demanding growth context but based on evolution of customers not serving customers for better performance that is determined by the top of the organization.



  • The living systems framework that can be very helpful is one that invites us to examine and understand how living systems work.
  • They are always nested and the outcome effects all entities. In a family, we have individuals who are nested and affected by the family. And the family is nested in a community and even a nation and a global economy.
  • We are all aware of the stacked set of nests and how insecure we can all become when a recession hits, especially if a global one.
  • There are ripple effects but there also is the possibility of directing outcomes and intervening to be an agent. But we have to learn to see the possibilities.
  • One of these nests is the following. Envision a set of three concentric rings. The inner one is performance. The second if development and the third is evolution. You need all three but the greatest outcomes for meaning and contribution are nested in evolution. The reason we do so much satisficing is that we don’t have the mind needed. We have a performance mind. We have been trained to look for and pursue performance outcomes.
    • Things we can count and add numbers to. But this mind working alone tends drops out caring because you cannot count it. That is wonderful part of this article is that it invites the acceptance that it will pay off to connect people. And it will. This is true. The problem is not that it is not true, not that it is a satisfied answer. It does not transform many of the elements toxic to business and life. You need the other two minds, levels of the nest.
    • If we engage in learning to read all the energies at work in these nests we can build capability of people to be more or less successful in the nested working. We add the middle concentric ring, which is DEVELOPMENT.  
    • In the HBR piece, there is training and development, but not from Essence which to me is the biggest missing thing from the Purpose-driven approach. It is better, a satisfying, but insufficient answer, therefore a satisficing answer.
    • The outer ring of the nest of rings is Evolution. Evolution speaks to Eras of a life or organization.
      • To bring something for Systems Actualizing into the world in how the systems of life serve LIFE. Social and Planetary Systems.


Business Second Opinion Podcast_ This set of Show Notes is an overview of Business Second Opinion Podcast #117. Available where you listen to podcasts including iTunes, Audio Boom, Stitcher. Or the website.


And read more blogs and Show Notes on www.BusinessSecondOpinion.com. Join the newsletter and get a background paper. Follow us on Twitter @businesssecondopinion. Suggest topics and HBR articles on which you want Carol’s Second Opinion. And finally, pick up a copy of The Regenerative Business, by Carol Sanford, with much more about how to build a regenerative work design. atwww.carolsanford.com.

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