Why your organization exists should guide how it operates

Why does your organization exist – and does it effectively align with your mandate? It’s an important consideration for organizations that want to stay relevant and enhance performance. Bob McCulloch, executive coach and strategic consultant, explains.

At their inception, all organizations have a raison d’être, whether that is set by founders for private sector companies and not-for-profits or by legislators for public agencies. But over time what they do and how they operate may deviate from that original intent, or the environment changes so it is no longer relevant. How can organizations course correct – or plot an entirely new route altogether?

CHANGING MANDATES

A number of years ago, I was hired as an executive coach and strategic consultant to facilitate sessions with a provincial workers’ compensation board (WCB), which included the board of directors and senior management. I posed the question: “What is the mandate of the WCB?” In other words, why does your organization exist?

The chair replied, “Well, just go to the legislation. We exist to protect the employer when being sued by an injured employee.”

Another member of the board said, “No, it’s about the protection of the employees. If they are injured, we need to ensure that they receive appropriate treatment and compensation.”

Someone else offered, “The way we’re approaching our work now, the real objective is to get the injured worker back into the workforce as fast as possible.”

Three different mandates with three very different sets of implications for how the workers’ compensation board ought to organize and operate, what functions it should put in place and which strategies it will pursue to accomplish those goals.

One can envision how easy it would be for this board to devolve into chaos and factions with three different – and competing – mandates. Or it could be an ideal opportunity to ask, “In today’s and tomorrow’s world, why do we exist? Who do we serve and how are they better off because we are here?”

STRATEGY AND ORGANIZATIONAL ALIGNMENT

The next step is to build a strategy around that response. The answer to “why” they exist becomes the key to “how” they operate. It’s a simple question, but the answer can lead to changes in mandate, mission and vision.

Elections Ontario, for instance, has been a compliance-focused organization for years. Before 2008, their emphasis was typically on ensuring that everyone associated with provincial elections was following the letter of the law: keeping track of allowable expenses, screening potential voters, making sure they had the proper documentation and so on.

But then a new Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa, sought to turn that mindset around and instead focus on ensuring that every voter who has the right to vote can vote, e.g. if a constituent has a disability, then what will Elections Ontario do to provide him or her with an accessible opportunity to vote?

Essentially, they asked the question: “Who do we serve and how are they better off because we exist?” Their answer prompted the inclusion of assistive technology. These tools include braille key pads, foot pedals, and sip-and-puff straws for those who cannot use their hands. This enables more participation, secretly and independently, without relying on others to cast their votes for them.

While not a perfect system yet, the answer to why Elections Ontario exists is guiding meaningful change on a strategic level as well as changing its operating culture dramatically. Other organizations can also benefit from confirming that their mandates guide action.

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE

It is useful for organizations to periodically re-evaluate their mandate or calling for true alignment, pausing to ask, “How are people better off because we exist?” The next step is determining what strategic initiatives should be put into place to ensure that people are, in fact, better off – and will continue to be so in the future.


Bob McCulloch is a recognized authority providing strategic guidance and executive coaching for tomorrow’s top business leaders.


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