By Mystie Johnson-Foote, MD, MBA
According to Oxford Languages, purpose is defined as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists” and strategy is defined as “a plan of action designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” One could reasonably conclude that the purpose of a strategy is to achieve a goal. In fact, this is where my mind went when I first considered the question, “Can purpose be a strategy?” Then, I pondered, could one also say that the strategy to achieve a goal is to find purpose? While I can answer with a resounding “yes!”, there was not an intuitive path for me to follow.
Twenty years ago, developing a strong strategy for an organization was imperative to succeed. From there, you may, or may not have determined the purpose for the organization, that is, something apart from becoming prosperous. The real goal in making the business successful, was ensuring that the strategy and systems were in place to keep things organized.
In our rapidly changing, post-pandemic society, this no longer holds true. Strategy, while still important, is taking a back-seat to purpose. Organizations who are forward-thinking are becoming intentional about who they want to be in the world – their purpose – and then, they are building the strategy to support it.
Purpose is the reason we do what we do. This can be applied to an individual or a business. In many industries, the broad purpose may be to serve others. This is true of healthcare, education, and hospitality to name a few. A more specific purpose will help you understand what that actually means. You can frequently identify the purpose of an organization through its mission statement. As an individual, this could be communicated through your personal brand statement. This was my ah-ha moment. Anything that comes next, like developing goals or strategy, must be based on purpose.
What it really comes down to, is that in today’s environment people don’t care what the organization’s strategy is. Obviously, one is necessary to retain control over the company’s working processes, but to be effective and create buy-in, the strategy must be deeply embedded in the organizational purpose. It is the purpose that creates the strong emotional link that makes employees want to go the extra mile to create the quality product or experience EVERY time. What’s more, it’s the purpose that makes consumers want to be involved with and support the organization. Once the purpose is determined, the strategy and goals become clear.
It’s easy to understand the flow if you look at my personal journey to determine my purpose. When I decided to become a physician, my purpose was to serve and help others. Knowing my purpose made it easy to set the strategy and goals of getting through med school and residency successfully even when faced with some of the greatest challenges of my life. After being in practice for many years, my purpose changed to finding balance between work and being a mom. With this in mind, my career goal shifted to an administrative role that provided more predictability and allowed me time to be with my son as he grew. As you can see, when I re-evaluated my purpose to adapt to different life phases, my career strategy changed to support my new purpose.
So, back to the original question, “Can Purpose be a Strategy?” The bottom line is, yes. People want to be involved with companies who identify with their values. They can easily become committed to and deeply entrenched in the purpose because they feel a connection. So, your strategy is to discover and live your purpose, and the rest will follow.
If you are in a place where you know your organization needs to re-evaluate it’s purpose to move successfully into the future, please contact us. We would love to help you navigate this challenge so you can reach your future goals, whatever they might be.
Ten ways leading companies turn purpose into strategy
Put Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy