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Elements of a Purposeful Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

Ideally, your company needs to know why it exists, where it is aiming toward, and how it is going to get there. Then, it needs every employee to actively participate in getting the company there.

Tall order.

Finding a company’s reason for existence becomes complicated if the company was founded 50+ years ago. However, finding a well formulated reason for existence among startups is also rare. All businesses have one thing in common, they try to make money now and in the future. If they don’t do that, there will be no company. Making money is obviously not the only reason for a company to exist, since it is a common denominator, people look for companies that have a purpose far beyond making money. Even for the individual, earning money is a qualifying criteria for getting on board. So we will limit the discussion about the influence of money. Back to finding purpose. Viktor Frankl showed that meaning can be found even in suffering, and quotes Nietzsche – “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”. Meaning can also be found in solving problems, think of Elon Musk trying to solve problems we did not even know we had – building the capacity to become an inter-planetary civilization, solving the energy problem, even solving traffic delays. Meaning can also be found in alleviating the suffering of others – Mother Theresa’s life surely had meaning.

For organisations, finding a purpose gives meaning to operations. A well formulated vision incorporates a company’s purpose and gives a sense of what the future state should look like. Having a broad vision statement, like “we aim to serve”, is not something achievable, nor is it significantly different to the current state. It might be that people are already “serving”, in that case people simply lose hope that the vision is tenable. Once employees lose hope that their involvement in a company has any meaning, they revert back to the qualifying reasons for being involved – money.

A well formulated purposeful vision should also be achievable at high and low levels of analysis. This is probably the most difficult part to get right. If a vision is only achievable at the end state, like “We aim to be the largest roasted coffee supplier in Africa”, it implies that there is no reward on the road to that goal. It states indirectly that “we achieve nothing until we achieve everything”. This can also be demotivating, not only for the employees, but for the executives also. It might be the case that the quickest fix is to have an evolving vision, to make the vision appropriate for lower levels of analysis. For example, “We want to be the largest roasted coffee supplier in Gauteng”. This, however comes with its own problems – what happens when the vision is achieved and it’s time for a new one? How quickly does the vision become loose goals without a central purpose? The first question employees ask is why. Why do we want to be the largest supplier in Africa? If the answer is due to revenue or profitability, it loses value.

Developing a purposeful vision can become complicated, to keep it simple a vision should:

  1. Explain purpose – which is never about money
  2. Be achievable in the short and long term – but never fully

At Favour & Grace, our vision has morphed significantly in the founding stages. It took us a while to understand why we are in business and how we are going to orientate ourselves to align to our purpose. Here is our vision: “Transform organisational culture into kingdom culture”

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A Culture of Ownership

We are now firmly in the midst of the festive feeling. Can you feel the productivity dropping? Some of your colleagues might already be telling everyone when their last day is and where they are going for the holidays. For some, work responsibilities are starting to fade into the background of priorities. This is probably the best time to figure out if you are engaged at work or not. The list of possible and completely understandable excuses are growing each day. Some people simply choose not to use those excuses and seem like they are never going to take leave. What do these people have in common?

Ownership. Usually the product owners, the team managers, the person with whom the buck stops are always ready to go the extra mile. When you understand that the things you are busy with are your responsibility, the list of excuses start shrinking. So, everyone can’t be product owners or managers, right? We’ll just have to live with it…

No. Creating a culture of ownership does not imply everyone has the title. It implies that everyone understands two very important things about the work they are busy with. Firstly, you need to understand where your team is going, how your team is going to get there and where your work fits into the picture. Secondly, you need to understand that you have complete authority and sole responsibility for the execution of your work. Of course, you depend on those around you and sometimes you have to wait on external forces, but once you understand ownership, your list of excuses remain small.

When trying to force the issue of ownership, lazy managers fall into the habit of being overly strict and are quick to use the disciplinary code to its full worth. Ironically, that behaviour drives ownership down! Fear and ownership do not mix. Empowerment and ownership however do mix, and it means that leaders need to be able to release some control and authority, and for some, it’s simply too much to bear.

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The Influence of Habits

The Influence of Habits

Habits and rituals are both a consequence and an influencer of corporate culture. In many cases, habits are purely coincidental and consequential of the people grouped together and the office space they occupy. Here are some of the habits we have experienced in previous environments;

  • Breaks are centered around a cup of coffee and a smoke break outside the office building
  • Meeting minutes are taken by the most junior person in the meeting
  • Everyone eats lunch at their desks
  • Emails are used for all internal communication – even the most informal of chats

These habits aren’t necessarily good or bad. In some organisations, some habits might lead to toxic behaviour while others empower people. For example if only the smokers group together for the smoke break and this specific group of people are predominantly negative, it could create a microcosm for negativity and complaints. If everyone eats at their desk it could improve productivity, but it also might lead to reduced conversation within the team. If e-mails are used for everything it might lead to distrust between team members (as everything is traceable) or it might lead to increased accountability.

In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece, it can move in any direction for any number of squares. Habits are similar in creating a great culture – it is the action you can take that you can move in any direction at any level of the team you want. You can create personal habits, team habits and cross-silo habits. In many cases habits are already there, it’s a matter of small tweaks to steer the habits into becoming an asset for your team’s culture. Generally, people don’t like major disruption in the ‘way we do business here’ – so start small. Think of everything that forms routine in your business, and think how it might be used to create a positive influence.

Covid-19 has put the spotlight on many teams’ culture. While existing teams need to start working from home, some habits completely disappeared, while it allows for the creation of new habits. Leaders have seen that the effort in maintaining healthy communication and team-collaboration is much higher than ever. ‘Habits’ is one of the most powerful tools a leader has in facilitating great culture in the post-covid era.

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Office Space

The Influence of Office space on Culture

“The office” in some industries is becoming an outdated idea, in others it remains critical to business function. Office design vacillated between open plan and closed door cubicles over the past 100 years. For a great recap check here, and you will see that what you might think as future-focused open plan space is actually an old idea. Unfortunately, many companies take on massive cost to transform their spaces just because it’s trendy, and not because it’s what their teams require.

Huge investments have gone into making the workplace more fun, and keeping employees happy when at work – think Google and King Price. These office transformations are also designed to stimulate creative thought and ideally, should ensure that each employee works optimally (when at work). Is this true and can you be sure that the investment you plan to make is going to pay dividends? The most innovative work in startups occur in a garage with literally nothing around. By the same token, it is also not too difficult to find an old office with no special trimmings and all the employees are engaged with great team performance. So what gives?

Changing your office space does not automatically change your culture. Think of it as one tool of many that aids in building an intentional culture. Do you want a culture that promotes innovation? Then think about putting up a whiteboard next to your coffee station. Do you want a culture that respects the individual? Then stop your hot-desk policy and assign each person their own space. Do you want a culture that breaks down silos between departments? Then stop grouping spaces for departments.

There are many alternatives for many aspects of your culture, start by visualising the culture your team needs, and then think about the spaces that will promote certain behaviours and inhibit others. So here is my question, what kind of a culture is your office space promoting?

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Groups of Authority

Achieving mass participation in an era where no one cares

Ever received mass-invitations for company-wide blood donations, wellness seminars, team building actions, that sort of thing? Yes we all have, and unless you truly care about the topic, chances are that you did not attend. These events are almost never compulsory and there is a very neat little excuse you can give – “I would love to attend, but I’m too busy”. This shows that you care more about the company making a profit, while you get out of those ‘boring’ events. In a large organisation, these events are consistently poorly attended, and only the regular suspects attend; those that organised it, their friends, the newcomers and those that actually care.

The organiser’s friend – that is the inspiration for this article. It is also where authority comes to play. Between the organiser and the organiser’s friend there exist some obligation, mainly due to the status of the current and future relationship. This obligation also exist in small, connected teams. If the team culture is great, people start viewing each other more like friends than competition. A mutual expectation between team members is not only great for task completion, but the expectations extend to extra-curricular activities also. If your team decides that it’s a good idea to attend the next wellness seminar or the company wide team building action – chances are you are more likely to attend.

Company-wide inclusion starts by building great teams where the individuals depend on one another, and then by addressing these teams for participation. There are some clear pitfalls if this approach is overdone.

  • Teams need to be interconnected to reduce silo-thinking
  • No individual can be left out
  • The team can never be more important that the company

Overcoming these items will be addressed in future articles. But for now, start building your team one cup of coffee at a time!

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Assessing your immediate atmosphere

Your environment’s culture is not just the way things get done, it’s the way you and those around you think. Culture can form perceptions and act as a filter to the way you are viewing the world around you. It’s easy to think that you are somehow isolated to those around you, but how often has your mood changed because someone spilled their coffee on you? Or when someone complains about some injustice in the workplace, you feel that same sense of discomfort with your environment? It’s easy to conceive how people can negatively affect you, especially if you score high in trait neuroticism. The opposite is also handy to know, if someone can help you get into a good mood, then you yourself might have some hope of influencing those around you more positively.

Excellent culture should allow people the freedom to express themselves while;

  • providing the filter that inhibits the ‘spilling over’ of negativity
  • acting as a conductor to maximise the potential of positivity

This might seem simple enough, but how does one go about creating such an environment? There is no recipe for success unfortunately as the dynamics of all cultures differ and are inherently subjective. The first step at least could be to test the conductivity of your culture for yourself. The last time you got to work in an excellent mood, how long did it last, and how many of your colleagues were actually positively affected?