It starts right here…

Chris Aitken


Earlier this year we launched the FromHereOn brand and with it a new approach to delivering people-centric business designs.  The approach we called the Business Design Method.  The Business Design Method has been developed and refined over more than 5 years based on our experience in delivering both Enterprise Architecture and Design client engagements.  The method is comprised of seven separate design activities that can be individually spun up or revisited as needed to deliver design traceability from strategy to implementation. 

This note is the first in a series that steps through Business Design Method and explores in detail each of the design activities that make up the method.

Figure 1: The FromHereOn Business Design Method

What is Purpose Design?

In a nutshell – Purpose Design is about being clear about who you are and what you stand for – both as an organisation or as an individual. Conventional wisdom says that a company’s executive team should develop a Vision or Mission statement to do this.  And conventional wisdom would be responsible for all the over blown, grandiose Vision and Mission statements that nobody believes and nobody embraces.

Purpose Design takes a very different, but in some ways unsurprising approach. Purpose Design starts with people – the people that make up the company or organisation and works outward to the other people involved here – namely the customers or consumers of your products and services.

We’re not talking about everyone taking an oath of allegiance to a company Vision – but we are talking about a process to credibly arrive at a statement of ambition that is authentic and believable.  It has to be - in order for customers or employees to give it a second’s notice.

However, if you attempt to develop a statement that is transparent and honest – in many cases in many contemporary firms you end up with something that doesn’t sound that attractive.

Our Vision: “To be the most profitable company in our industry sector”

Our Mission: “To successfully convince customers to buy an inconsequential product at the maximum margin we can achieve, that comes with significant churn cost, and built in obsolesce”.

Now of course no one would ever say that – and maybe it’s a bit disingenuous – but you get the picture. And therein lies the reason that so many vision and mission statements just make you cringe.  We all simply know that they are not particularly meaningful or authentic… we humans can spot inauthenticity a mile off.

Purpose Design attempts to understand what gets you and your employees out of bed in the morning. Given we spend a significant amount of our time at work – it had better be a significant use of our time, something we believe in, and ultimately has to be about more than our pay cheque. 

Building a company to simply make a profit is an old trick – we’ve been doing that as a society for a while now and done it just about every way imaginable – with a singularity of purpose for which we are now reaping the consequences.  Increasingly customers and society at large expect more from businesses. This is exemplified in the growing popularity of Triple Bottom Line or Betterness models of business and the Circular Economy.  In the words of Sir Andrew Witty, Chief Executive Officer at GlaxoSmithKline “Its good business to be a good business”.  It also requires careful, thoughtful, and intentional design.

How do you do purpose design?

So how do you go about designing an authentic Vision and Mission? Purpose Design starts with a team of people ideally a group that is more a across section of the company than just the Executive Leadership Team.  The process needs to start with the executive giving team members ‘permission to play’ – that is – all contributions are invited – all opinions are valid. The ELT also needs to demonstrate upfront commitment to the design process because they have confidence in the process to deliver not only the desired outputs (i.e., meaningful Vision and Mission statements) but also great outcomes (i.e., increased employee engagement).  In larger companies, the process may require several ‘Purpose Design Teams’ each separately sponsored by one more of the ELT.

The process applies mainstream diverge / converge design techniques to the development of each of the concepts defined within the Business Motivation Model Specification  combined with in a frame of reference popularised as Collective Ambition.

The process starts with the identification of external drivers, values, and an initial statement of Brand Promise (i.e., proposition to the customer) and working through to vision, mission, goals, strategies and objectives.  The process takes a blank canvas and creates statements that describe the reason for the company existing – the problem that the company exists to solve (i.e., Vision), and the company’s intent when it comes to solving that problem (i.e., Mission).  However, the starting point for developing these statements is a consideration the values and ambition of the members of the team.

Collective ambition draws a line between the ambition of the company and individual ambition to arrive at a ‘collective’ or common ambition.  The Purpose Design process provides the means for individuals to reflect on their own drivers, vision, values, goals etc and the alignment between these and the company’s. The process then invites the group to develop a commonly agreed purpose that they relate to at some level personally, and also describes credible ambition (i.e., vision, mission) and direction (goals and strategies) for the company.

It is not uncommon for this process to throw up a challenge to how the company currently operates – particularly if the company ambition to this point has centred on profit and profit alone. The executive team needs to be ready for this and be prepared to run with it – at least for a while - as often this is where ideas for new business models and new market opportunities are to be found. While Purpose Design may be the genesis of significant future changes for the company – the subsequent design activities in the Business Design Method are concerned with the design and the change management required to realise these new ideas.

A final and important consideration is the design of the objectives and measures as both these tend to influence our work behaviour – so it’s important to spend the time to design them well. The process works back from the desired behaviours of both employees and the company as whole, and then considering the goals to be achieved, designs suitable objectives (way points) and measures.

Why would you bother?

Purpose Design requires time and effort – and is often a bumpy ride – so why would you bother? Simply because it is possibly the singularly most significant thing your company can do – period.  While the outputs (i.e., clear believable Vision and Mission statements) will drive and direct change in the organisation – the outcomes (i.e., engaged employees, easy communication up and down the management structure) will be the means by which these changes are rapidly realised. Imagine the work environment where employees from across different areas of the company become enthusiastic champions of change because they can point to the individual strategy or goal statement that they came up with or helped craft.

Purpose Design is the cornerstone on which the rest of the Business Design Method depends.  In our experience, most client engagements commence with some level of Purpose Design because it is simply not possible to design an effective business without laser-like clarity about your purpose. It is also not possible to design a ‘good’ business without authenticity – and that starts with the people who work there.

Next Steps

Clearly achieving sustainability – financially, environmentally and socially will be the defining issue for business as we know it over the next few decades. We are optimistic about the future and the capacity for people to design for change and to see that change realised. In the face of staggering financial inequality within a system that measure success in dollars - we believe that the opportunity for fundamental market disruption is ripe.  We believe that Purpose Design and design processes like it are a key part of the shift to a market economy where the combined outcomes for people, planet and profit are the measures of success.

We invite you to continue this discussion below.

The next entry in this series will examine the design activity we call Value Design.