Posts Tagged ‘institutions’

Purpose – owned and unowned

Friday, March 26th, 2010

One big problem in organisational life comes from the discrepancy that may exist between the stated purpose of an organisation and the actual purpose. Normally we think that we have a purpose, which is our ideal, and what hinders us from reaching it is our human shortcomings. It’s frightening and strange to think that there are other purposes at work – are we to think that we’re conspiring against ourselves? This is a place where the concept of the system of an organisation helps. Let’s say for the moment that this is made up of all the unconscious drives and motives that the human beings in the organisation bring into it. The less these are acknowledged, the more power the unowned motives will have. Far from being frightening, it’s liberating to step back from our organisation, in which we invest so much hope and effort, and see what purpose it is trying to realise. A crass example is the organisation with a charismatic leader: the stated purpose may be education, or care, but if we examine the evidence we find that, whilst these are important, they take second place to the aggrandisement of the leader, or his protection from painful self-knowledge. Some anthroposophical institutions make conducting an experiment into consensual decision-making without clear leadership structures into their purpose, sacrificing their stated purpose to this end, even in the face of very strong evidence that their stated purpose is being hindered.
(This is not to dismiss the importance of trying to find appropriate forms of leadership for today; in fact if we examined what ‘appropriate’ means, we might find that our definition included the idea of enabling us to work to our purpose. )

The mirror we look in when we examine this discrepancy is a great liberation. The problem can of course be on either side: we may need to realign to our stated purpose; or we may need to restate our purpose to include new elements which have become important to us. Then we can integrate these into our mission statement or leading thought, and all stakeholders will have the opportunity to decide whether they can identify with them. In the crass example of the charismatic leader, could we imagine what would happen if the mission statement was recast to say “the purpose of X is to provide Y with an opportunity to realise his aims, and to mirror positive reflection to him in doing this. One of the tasks that enables us to do this is Z (eg education etc).” Leaving the absurdity to one side for a moment, how liberating would that be for all concerned! How much time have I spent agonising to understand how to square my experience of unstated purpose with that which was stated.

To recognise all this is one thing. The next challenge is to find ways of communicating it that don’t alienate, but liberate!