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Purpose, sense-making and commitment

There are six key leadership practices that underpin successful change - we start here with the first three: purpose, sense-making and commitment.
I see leadership teams or a leader in an organisation as a pioneer, someone who is able to paint the picture of vision for the future for the organisation, who is able to energise and motivate his teams towards this vision, who is able to drive change in the organisation in a positive and directional way, but still creating this sense of safety, where, in a lot of change situations, people– fear is a natural element to it. People are afraid of change. And a pioneer would be someone who really is able to help people or create the trust with his people where they would follow him even if they aren’t so sure where they’re heading at the end of the day.
Leadership must create a sense of purpose that carries meaning both for the organisation and the people who contribute to its growth.
The purpose is the shared direction that people are moving towards. There are a number of elements which are required for a purpose to be successful, such as clarity, connection, goals, stories, and passion. Let’s look at these elements in more detail.
Clarity. If the purpose is not clear, then the people will not be clear. People need to understand what is being proposed and how it will affect them. Statements of the overall purpose also need to be short enough to be remembered. The first thing is to have clarity around vision, whether you’re a team leader, whether you’re leading an organisation, whatever level you might be at. That’s really important, because that will really help engage the people that you work with. Connection. Connection of the purpose refers to its ties to the past and the present.
Although the purpose is primarily set in the future, how it is related to the history of an organisation can validate those people who have worked hard and sacrificed to build what already exists.
Goals. The purpose of the organisation determines its goals. Establish goals as a key ingredient to communicating a strong purpose. The goal should be smart, specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, and time-bound. Communicating the purpose and goals means being open about any challenges. One way that this can be done is through sharing stories.
Stories are a helpful part of communicating the purpose. Stories of those involved in the process of making the purpose happen or stories of people who have accomplished similar tasks makes the purpose seem real and achievable. It can make the purpose come to life.
Passion. Passion is the motor behind the vehicle of the purpose. For example, Klaus Zumwinkel, the chairman and CEO of Deutsche Post, often talked about his passion for mountain climbing, linking the experience of that sport and the effort it requires to the purpose of the organisation.
So we see how clarity, connection, goals, stories, and passion all contribute to the overall sense of purpose. But the uncertainty of change can lead to confusion within an organisation. This is where leaders need to develop the practice of sense-building.
Sense-building. Dealing with the uncertainty and complexity of change requires an ability to make sense of what is happening. When sense-building for an organisation, the complex interactions between different entities must be carefully addressed in a coordinated and collaborative setting. Sense-building involves looking to the future and making sense of complexity and setting goals.
Commitment. Leadership practices involve gaining the commitment and engagement from people in the organisation. Irrespective of how brilliant the purpose may be, if employees do not buy into it, very little will change.
One way to build commitment is to create an environment in which people are involved in decision-making and have a role in shaping the organisation. With an organisational change, you have a lot of different stakeholders. And in all events, you want as much as possible to have them join and embrace that change, participate, co-create, and not just sit and watch, and eventually, even resist the change. So you need to be inclusive. You need to understand how each and every stakeholder in an organisation will have a role to play in the change.

At every level of management within an organisation, especially during change, leadership needs to be demonstrated. During this activity we encourage you to think about your own role in leading a change process.

There are six key leadership practices that help underpin successful change which we will spend the next couple of steps focusing on.

  • Sense of purpose
  • Sense-building
  • Commitment
  • Sponsorship
  • Collaboration
  • Energy

In this video, we cover the first three practices: sense of purpose, sense-building and commitment.

In the next step we will look at the rest of the practices and consider what they mean for our own practices.

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Leading and Managing People-Centred Change

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