1 2 3 Purpose

May 10, 2019  ·  Richard Scott-Will-Harknett

Getting to purpose - a quick path to creating a purpose statement .


I recently found myself having to come up with a format on the fly for a new leadership team to create a purpose statement. Here’s what I did.

1 2 3 Purpose

Three questions, one per post-it placed on a wall with plenty of space between them:
- What?
- Who?
- Why?

"What?" - what does the tribe *do*, what is our work, what is expected of us?
"Who?" - in the context of what we do, who do we do it for, who cares?
"Why?" - why does any of that matter, why do those under "Who?" care about the "What?"



Stage 1
1 Silent brainstorming onto post-its for each of the three questions.
2 Each places their post-its up and briefly explains the meaning
3 The group collaborates to cluster / affinity map like items together. Encourage them to discuss what they’re doing and why as they do it. Name each clump.
4 Ensure common understanding - take turns to summarise what each clump represents.

This first stage started to bring out the similarities and differences in the group. The process also fired off new ideas that they incorporated as they listened to one another.



Stage 2
1 Write a sentence or two for each of the three question areas. Sentences can be stand alone and don’t need to connect or flow. Aim to capture the essence of the respective question areas.
2 One person, one sentence and for one area at a time read out what has been created and provide constructive feedback.
3 Facilitate a brief discussion on what was noticed about what has been heard: what resonated, what fell a bit flat and what else might be missing?

This conversation naturally moves to the third stage.



Stage 3
Shift to the flip-chart sheets.

1 The first sheet is for rough capture and drafting. The group reads out, questions, challenges and discusses their sentences again. Now ideas merge, new words and concepts come out. These get captured on the flip-chart paper.
2 Reading and re-reading, they continue to edit and re-draft until they fall quiet.
3 Probe with a few questions. After a couple of modifications I found they were content: it represented their feelings and beliefs.
4 Transcribe onto the second flip-chart sheet. The group had created a first draft purpose statement.

What they felt...


I don't recall the exact words so I'm paraphrasing, but one said something like: ‘Doing that is worth getting out of bed for each day. I'd be proud to do that.’

Their top three take outs:

  • Surprised and delighted that they actually got a statement that was meaningful and that they were all happy with.
  • Turned out that they were more aligned in their thinking about the tribe than they thought and that was a great thing to be clear about.
  • They started to learn much more about how they each thought through things and approached problem solving.

There are heaps of patterns for creating purpose statements but this is what I came up with on the fly. It seemed reasonably painless for a small leadership team who weren't used to working together to create a successful outcome.


If you give it a try let me know how you get on and what tweaks you make to improve it.