Sense-of-mission

The vast majority of organizations are designed and managed as moneymaking machines.  But the most telling word here is not moneymaking but machine. It reflects the notion that the business organization is solely an instrument designed to efficiently and effectively generate profit for its owner—the business of business is profit. It is a notion born out of the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm—a mechanistic view of the universe—that informed Adam Smith in his writing of The Wealth of Nations and precipitated the Industrial Revolution.  It is also re-presented in academic form in the curriculum of business schools for the preparation of executive-level mechanics of the machine.

Noteworthy among a few academics is Henry Mintzberg who has criticized the traditional MBA-type preparation of future business leaders. Mintzberg contends the traditional programs do a good job of creating analyst, but they don’t really teach the craft of management/leadership. Being quantitatively focused, business schools train people to drive the organization for results, to set goals and direction, and to exercise control and overall administrative oversight to keep it running—just like a well-oiled machine.

But the machine is not well-oiled and in fact the organization isn’t a machine at all!  It is a system of people—a social system—structured to support people’s collaborative efforts toward specified goals.

Accordingly, ‘how do you motivate people’ is a question often asked by those in management.  Frederick Herzberg, believing that people at base care about the deeper issue of fulfillment in life, offers a clear and concise answer, give people something motivating to do!

So what is motivating?  The simple answer is that which is meaningful to them! Unfortunately, since understanding people and meaningfulness are not part of the highly quantitative business school curriculum, most managers are clueless—hence the often asked question about motivation.

So how does a leader facilitate meaning throughout an organization?  Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop and managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, noted that it flows from the company’s sense-of-mission (which is another word for vision).  Mission and sense-of-mission are fundamentally two different things.  A mission is the answer to the question, what business are we in.  A sense-of-mission is the answer to the question, why are we—the organization—in the business we are in.   To illustrate, Guy points to his time in the Mac Division of Apple where the shared sense-of-mission was about making the world a better place by making people more creative and productive.  The intent was not about moneymaking but about something far deeper and larger than the organization itself—it seems Apple understood that superficiality isn’t sufficient.

As brought to light in The Spirit of Quality business has become far too instrumental in service to purposes of outer value—recently Toyota provided us a perfect illustration of the effects of confusing means and ends.  Overlooked is the fact that meaning is essential for people—for all people at all levels—to truly engage in their work. Yet a shared sense-of-mission is so uncommon among business organizations.  What could be done to make what truly is needed, yet so uncommon, more common?

14 thoughts on “Sense-of-mission

  1. You already know the answer–leadership.

    For the individual, helping them realize what are their motivations and helping them understand their role in the team’s success are important.

    For the team, developing the shared mission and then establishing the sense-of-mission are beneficial.

    Look at special operations warfare teams like the Seals, Rangers, and Delta. If you are a part of Seal Team 6 (ST6), there is no doubt on your mission–counter-terrorism.

  2. Phil great examples. I suspect because of the shared sense-of-mission the individuals who comprise these teams (i.e. Seals) willingly trust each other in their collaborative efforts to accomplish whatever mission they are given.

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