Aligning Systems with Purpose and Values

What does it mean, in practice, to build an organizational culture based on strong purpose and values? It means a specific, step-by-step pathway to align decisions, policies,practices, processes, and procedures with the purpose and values that define the organization. This allows the organization to become ever more effective at achieving its purpose in line with its values. Without such a process, purpose and even deeply held values are destined to become purely decorative: a poster on the wall or a plaque in the lobby instead of the living heart of an organization.

Any organization can either express or undermine its purpose and values through the way it sets up its five core systems: 

  1. Decision-making: This system comprises all agreements about who makes which decisions,using what process, with input from whom, telling whom the result. Are all these agreements supporting the purpose and aligned with organizational values?
  2. Resource allocation: Clarity and transparency in this area are particularly important, since decisions about budgets, pay, and human energy so powerfully affect organizational functioning. Are resources generated and flowing in ways that support the purpose of the organization? What values does the organization or team reflect in the way it distributes resources – financial, human, and otherwise?
  3. Information flow: Simply put, information is to an organization as blood is to a human body. Vision, purpose, and direction might flow outward from the center, while ideas, wishes, and feedback flow inward from everywhere. Is the way that information flows throughout the organization – particularly from those in leadership positions to others, and vice versa – aligned with its purpose and values?
  4. Feedback loops: Team members and leaders need learning-oriented feedback to help them function more effectively towards purpose and in line with organizational values. Are the choices about who gives feedback to whom, when, and for what specific purpose consistent with purpose and values, or is “feedback” actually a subtle mechanism for reward and punishment?
  5. Conflict: In the absence of a conscious choice about how to engage with conflict, organizations tend to revert to punitive methods, losing the opportunity to fine-tune systems and relationships and increase their alignment with purpose and values. Is there an established method for attending to conflict? Does the way conflicts are handled support learning and reinforce values?

The process of creating alignment entails the following steps:

  1. Reach clarity about purpose that is shared around the organization: This entails finding ways to engage as many stakeholders as possible to name and clarity the purpose. The more shared the purpose, and the more people within the organization are in service to that purpose, the more likely this purpose will provide energy to do the work.
  2. Identify core values and make them explicit: This entails honesty with regards to what are the values that truly motivate the organizational culture, including unexamined values. Then the alignment entails finding ways to embody the truly motivating values, examine and transform unexamined values, and bring in progressively more clearly aspirational values that are not yet fully embodied.
  3. Elucidate the group’s Current Five Core Systems: This entails an extensive process of engaging across the organization to identify all the existing policies,procedures, practices, agreements, and structures that make up each system.
  4. Find and close gaps between core systems and the purpose and value: This entails gradually and systematically prioritizing one system after another to modify so that it more adequately aligns with the purpose and values. When everyone connected to the organization can recognize the authenticity of the stated values and can immediately see and feel increased alignment with both purpose and values, the result is enthusiasm and commitment that are palpable and easily outweigh the initial investment in the alignment process.