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Change Management, Thought Leadership 14. april 2020 Andy Lothian

In a time of crisis, how do you hold onto your purpose?

This week, I’ve found myself exploring the importance of being led by purpose, and not plan. At any given moment, we’re presented with any number of competing priorities and demands. Purpose anchors us.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, ‘What’s your core idea, or purpose, and how can you preserve it during this time of crisis?’

Every business is supported by plans. Strategic plans, delivery plans, communication plans: and each helps us to achieve, or at least to move closer to, our goals – with responsibilities allocated and milestones along the way.

And that’s how it should be. Plans are important to keep organisations targeted and on track. They show us the way and support us on that journey. Plans are a bridge, helping us cross an obstacle – perhaps over turbulent or treacherous waters – to the sure ground of progress on the other side.

But it’s important not to get too bogged down in plans and planning, particularly in times of disruption. Because plans are just that – plans. Whether high-level or finely detailed, in your head or bound with footnotes in a 36-page presentation document, even the best-laid plans can be disrupted.

They can be – and frequently are – impacted by world events, new technologies, or any one of a million other factors in your industry, many of which are outside of your control. Right now, countless numbers of businesses are ripping up their plans and adapting to the new reality imposed by the coronavirus pandemic – accelerating some areas, pausing or dropping others, and responding to new workforce and trading conditions. Whole countries and economies face extraordinary changes, while our communities and families deal with huge stresses and strains, and, in many cases, illness and loss of life.

Few business continuity plans were quite ready for the disruption we are currently experiencing. And the bridge across these turbulent waters may seem less structurally sound than before.

When we’re facing challenges in the day-to-day hustle of business, amidst competing demands and priorities, it can be easy to lose sight of the reason behind our efforts. But underpinning all our plans should be our purpose – the thing we live and breathe for, the reason we get up every morning. If our plan describes the steps we will take to our destination, then our purpose defines the reason we are on the journey in the first place.

Focusing on purpose helps clarify goals. If we are committed to ‘why’ we do what we do then we’ll be able to adapt - to build new visions in service of that why. We will see more clearly which actions further our purpose and which are distractions. We will find it easier to adapt our approach and our plans, our decision-making will become simpler, and our organisations will be more agile and responsive. We can be clear about ‘why’ – and then ‘what’ – and flexible about ‘how’.

The Japanese idea of ‘Ikigai’ roughly translates as “a reason for being.” It’s that which we live for. The reason we get up in the morning. At Insights, we’ve found that the Ikigai concept has helped us explore:

  • that which we love to do
  • that which we are good at
  • that which we can be paid for
  • and that which the world needs.

Ikigai lies where these four overlapping ideas intersect. It is a powerful idea to help define purpose. Whatever activities you plan, whatever goals you set, whatever industry you set out to disrupt, you can always seek to hold true to this purpose, your very own Ikigai.

Beginning with whatever is inside this intersection is the bedrock of any new venture. It will set you up to focus on the future you want to create and why. Regardless of what is thrown at you, pursue only that which furthers your purpose.

So, when the world changes and our plans seem sure, it’s even more important to be guided by purpose – to remind ourselves where we’re headed, but more importantly why we wanted to cross that bridge in the first place.

As Nietzchse put it, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Andy is Chief Executive Officer of Insights Group, where he guides us to fulfil the Insights purpose - to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do.

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