March 03, 2014

LETTER FROM CLAREMONT: MARCH-APRIL 2014

If you’re paying any attention to publications like Harvard Business Review or MIT Sloan Management Review, you know that a hot topic in our world is the need for corporations to mix profit with purpose in order to attract both customers and employees.

For us, this has created a terrific chance to share some of Peter Drucker’s timeless wisdom. As part of our Drucker Un-Workshops—so named because they provide the understanding to help get companies unleashed on a particular challenge or opportunity—we’ve found ourselves being asked to help senior executives think through their organizations’ missions.

Recently, for instance, we assisted an asset-management firm in shaping its mission after one of the principals there asked his colleagues what they thought their mission was, only to discover that nobody was quite on the same page. Getting them aligned around a common vision and sense of purpose, he thought, would be an important first step toward lifting the organization’s performance in a variety of areas.

Drucker would have surely agreed. A well-crafted mission “focuses the organization on action,” Drucker wrote in his famous 1989 HBR article “What Business Can Learn from Nonprofits.” “It defines the specific strategies needed to attain the crucial goals. It creates a disciplined organization. It alone can prevent the most common degenerative disease of organizations, especially large ones: splintering their always limited resources on things that are ‘interesting’ or look ‘profitable’ rather than concentrating them on a very small number of productive efforts.”

During our half-day Un-Workshop session at the asset-management firm, we took the team there through a series of high-velocity exercises, which involved sketching visions of the future, ideating and building models. Step by step, they were asked to deeply examine and clearly articulate three things: the firm’s opportunity, or the specific need in the world that it is serving; its competence, or what it does especially well; and its commitment, or what the people there are most passionate about.

Groundwork complete, they then came up with four potential mission statements—all of them tight enough to fit on a T-shirt, just as Drucker counseled. The firm has committed to making a final choice very soon.

When it does, we know that it is bound to be even more effective as an organization, helping it to be a strong member of the community and a great employer for the long haul.

And that, of course, helps us meet our mission: strengthening organizations to strengthen society.

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Rick Wartzman and Zach First
Executive Director and Managing Director