Designing the Purposeful Organization: A book review by Bob Morris

Designing PurposefulDesigning the Purposeful Organization: How to Inspire Business Performance Beyond Boundaries
Clive Wilson
KoganPage (2015)

Are you helping to build a “cathedral”?

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of the ancient insight, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Many (most?) executives today are unclear about what the purpose of their organization is, other than — as one CEO recently explained to me — “to keep the doors open and the lights on.” The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent books asserts that “what got you here won’t get you there” and I presume to add that “what got you here won’t allow you to remain here,” wherever and whatever “here” may be.

This is probably what César Fritz had in mind when explaining his hotel’s purpose: “We are ladies and gentlemen privileged to serve other ladies and gentlemen” with service that is “invisible.” Don’t overlook this book’s subtitle: “How to inspire business performance beyond boundaries.” Leaders can’t motivate people but they can inspire them to be self-motivated and the single greatest resource at a leader’s disposal is a compelling vision of the given organization’s purpose. Here’s something else to chew on: Most of the companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and the best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry. Coincidence? I don’t think so. They have customer evangelists because those who are employed by them are also evangelists, serving a shared purpose.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Wilson’s coverage:

o The purpose-driven organization, and, The eight conditions for a purposeful organization (Pages 2-3)
o The power of focus (13-14)
o Getting to the heart of purpose (14-17)
o The wider perspective, and, The granularity of purpose (22-27)
o Defining vision (35-40)
o Sharing the vision (44-46)
o The language of vision, and, Owning the vision (46-54)
o Aligning perspectives (54-57)
o Evidence that engagement makes good business sense (65-72)
o Cue the “learning organization” (72-75)
o Purposeful engagement in learning (75-78)
o Keeping it simple (109-113)
o The power of culture (120-127)
o Leadership and its impact on culture (128-134)
o The culture of a learning organization (141-145)
o Purpose-driven or results-driven? (150-151)
o A 10-step guide: Targeting and achieving powerful results (152-167)
o Providing structures for success (182-185)
o Successful teams (187-193)
o Talent liberation (206-209)

Wilson is to be commended on his brilliant use of reader-friendly devices that include directly relevant mini-case studies, implementation activities, and sets of “10 Questions” that serve as assessments of purpose, vision, engagement, structure, character, results, success, and talent. Keep in mind that when completing these assessments, there are no right or wrong answers, only honest and dishonest ones. Proceed accordingly. After you read (and hopefully re-read) the book, you may wish to revisit the sets of questions. Doing so will help to guide and inform an effective application of the information, insights, and counsel that are most relevant to your organization’s current/imminent needs, interests, resources, issues, concerns, and strategic objectives. Keep in mind that most limitations are self-imposed. Also, make certain that the given purpose is worthy of what will be required to serve it well. Clive Wilson provides just about everything that you and your colleagues need to “inspire business performance beyond boundaries.”

I conclude with a story that has inspired me and countless others:

“A man came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home.’

”A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, ‘Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.’

”A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, ‘I…am building a cathedral!’”

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  1. Clive Wilson on February 23, 2015 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for the review Bob. You really got the essence of the book. I’m also very much looking forward to the interview you suggested.

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