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Before speeding up, reflect on where you’re going and why.

Updated: Oct 16, 2018

Purpose, Mindfulness, and Agility

I recently came across this great thought piece on purpose from Michael Chavez, CEO of Duke Corporate Education. Chavez offers a fresh and insightful perspective on purpose, connecting purpose with “corporate agility” – perhaps one of the most over-used business buzzwords of late. Corporate agility is described as, “a sustainable company-wide capability to pivot away from entrenched mental and business models into new markets and sources of value”. With market volatility, unpredictability, and changing consumer demands the new norm, the deep-down urgency felt by companies across all industries to keep pace with this dynamism is hardly surprising. Chavez suggests, however, that for all the buzz and hype around “agility”, perhaps they should first take a step back to think about something bigger and more fundamental – IE. Their purpose. He has a point. With so much time and energy being dispensed on becoming more agile, people can all too easily forget for what they’re trying become more agile in the first place.

The primary tenet of Chavez’s piece is that, if a clear sense of purpose is shared and owned holistically by employees throughout your organization, it follows that people will instinctively do whatever it takes in terms of looking ahead to, planning for, and managing the inevitable turns and bumps in the road in order to achieve on that purpose. Change, adaptation, redesign, transformation. All the things traditional organizations fear the most, and cause the most pain – simply become a natural and logical part of the process when all parties are aligned around a common purpose.

Second, the article also highlights that a natural by-product of purpose is organizational resilience. The capacity to push through or “lean in” when the going gets tough, which employees gain through the energy and resolve that comes from having a clear sense of meaning in their work. This is significant. Like a sprinter running a marathon, being fast in itself ultimately won’t take you very far. Companies that develop the ability to constantly change tack, combined with the capacity to stay focused and motivated moving into the headwinds, will come out on top.

Lastly Chavez points out that, by the way, purpose-driven companies resonate most positively with the creative class: the emerging segment of the workforce characterized by their fleetness-of-foot and progressive mindset who create, live, and breathe the ideas and trends of tomorrow. He’s right. Research shows 84% of millennials feel "making a difference" is more important than professional recognition, and an even higher proportion believe success should be measured by more than just financial performance. Surely then, it should follow that the brands engaging most authentically with this generation will – by default – become more agile as a result.

When it comes to organizational leadership, the parallels that can be drawn between purposeful and mindful leadership are striking. Mindful leaders are characterized by their ability to be present in the moment, to cope well with uncertainty, to pause amidst chaos and confusion, and to act based on conscious decision rather than react on impulse or out of habit. Ideal traits, therefore, for thriving in an environment of information overload, constant enormous pressure, and ongoing distraction and disruption, where these leaders have the developed ability to think clearly and focus on the most important opportunities ahead.

Research shows that mindful organizations recognize the need to constantly step back to reflect on why they exist, the meaning of their work, and how to best create ways to overcome the ongoing challenges they’re faced with. Mindful organizations are driven by a strong sense of journey and meaning. They are faster at adapting to change, and remain resilient when navigating the barriers and obstacles to achieving their goals. All key characteristics of “corporate agility”.

So – when you’re next looking to hire a leader into a role where a key requirement is “Demonstrated flexibility and ability to quickly adapt to change” (or something to that effect), try going beyond an assessment of the executive’s track record of managing change. Pay attention to their experiences helping others around them develop a clear sense of purpose, or building teams that are “mindful” about why they come to work every day. The likelihood is they’ll be ones with the skills necessary for elevating your business into and beyond the horizons ahead.


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