It’s an organization’s North Star that enables agility in times of change and transformation. We all know that in today’s business world it’s essential to stay flexible and be agile. Here is a portion of Jan Bruce’s take on the importance of a clear sense of purpose in enabling agility. Jan is the CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the only human capital management platform based on the science of resilience, writing here for Forbes.
Today, as cycles of technology, market conditions and competitive environments continue to accelerate, being agile means pivoting faster and faster to manage those cycles. But studies of agile transformations show that companies must have a unifying vision, a true North Star, to guide them through the changing environments. Your North Star is more than a mission or values statement—it is how you affirm that statement in everything you do. It’s your purpose.
Leaders must articulate vision and values such that people internalize and make them their own. Authentic values guide creative thinking, problem-solving and innovation. I love hearing an employee say, “I know this is a different way of solving a problem, but I’m doing it because this is what we stand for….” The North Star of such purpose gives guidance when employees talk to customers, analyze problems, reach out to partners and iterate ideas in a fast-cycle agile system.
Unchanging vision creates a context for decision-making when the business context is altered by innovations in technology, business models, changing regulatory landscapes and economic conditions. Unity of purpose sets direction even as destinations (e.g. product offerings, customer segments, business strategy) evolve and change.
If you aren’t sold on this or feel you will get to it later, think again, because vision helps you get where you want to go, so there is never a time to be without it. Here are three more reasons to find and pay attention to your North Star:
1. It’s key to keeping people performing and invested
In studies about the value of pay versus purpose, purpose consistently outranks pay in building employee engagement. Meaningful work and connection to purpose is #1; salary is #5.
2. It’s an important lever for creating customer focus and value
In today’s world, your company’s purpose and your product are interconnected. Witness the success of companies like Disney and Amazon, whose relentless focus on serving customers and finding unmet customer needs drives constant innovation. My favorite example is Netflix, whose guiding vision has been delivering great entertainment to people, personalized and on demand; this vision has led them to produce more and better original entertainment in addition to sourcing and delivering the work of other networks, studios and channels.
3. It helps you rapidly seize and sense opportunities
My company began with the vision of helping people treat stress as a force that had to be worked and optimized, rather than banished. We leveraged the science of resilience and data-based tools to provide personalized training for people based on their stress responses and coping skills.
As the pace of change in the workplace accelerated, the stress and adversity embedded in fast business cycles worsened. Conventional wisdom, “stress is bad, it’s the enemy of productivity, it causes burnout,” led companies to add work-life balance initiatives like more vacation, telecommuting and company gyms. But these well-intentioned efforts amounted to a version of the binge-diet-binge-diet trap which treated symptoms but never got at the root problem.
As more and more customers turned to agile work methods, they asked us to build resilience solutions that identified their at-risk populations, and the factors that threatened their workforce’s adaptive capacity.
The opportunity caused meQuilibrium to rethink in very big ways. It led us to develop an enterprise-wide set of diagnostic tools that enable leaders to understand how adaptive their workforce could be and how they might better perform in the midst of pressure, transformation or transition. We reached beyond stress management to address onboarding, team-building, implicit bias, growth mindset, safety. For example, we could tell a manufacturing company, “A third of your people are chronically under-sleeping. No sleep, no safety—and that’s an existential threat to a manufacturer. No agile transformation is going to work without a sleep component.”
4. It enables you to pivot with purpose
When you’re navigating turbulent waters, don’t ever lose sight of that North Star.