A DNA helix organized to spin toward a light

Most people running an organization are trained to pay attention to the bottom line. The assumption is that there is only one important bottom line. Really?

Granted, the bottom right corner of a financial statement contains immensely important information. This is especially true over time, which, along with other data, reveals comparisons and trends; improvement or decline, etc. However, as important as that bottom line is, it does not represent the essence of the organization. It represents a means of managing the resources and leverage-ability of that essence.

Organizational Essence

No, it’s not a new perfume; but a clear understanding of it does make an organization more attractive — to customers, employees, investors, and donors. When an organization knows and understands why it exists, it is less likely to drift away from its mission. It is more likely to adhere to its core value system. It’s vision will be congruent with its DNA.

Here are three examples of why different organizations were founded. Pay attention to the difference between why they exist and what their stated mission is:

  • A residential asphalt paving company: “We exist to help first generation immigrants find jobs in order to provide for their families.” (Mission: “To provide developers and homeowners with safe, attractive, and affordable vehicle access to their property.”)
  • A faith based youth camp: “We exist to help churches with the discipleship and spiritual formation of their children.” (Mission: “To provide a mountaintop encounter with Jesus Christ through Christian camping.”)
  • A solar panel installation company: “We exist to help disadvantaged young adults with gainful employment in order to financially provide for unexpected family-oriented needs.” (Mission: “ _______ provides clean energy solutions to the Central Valley and across California.”)

I’ve seen it in real life — when you identify the reason an organization exists and communicate it clearly to others, there is a nonverbal but audible, emotionally authentic response. When you nail it, those who hear it also “get it”. It makes sense to their minds and resonates with their hearts. 

The DNA of your Organization

Then, you keep repeating it until it becomes, or once again becomes, the foundation upon which your mission is built, your values operate, and your vision for the future is aligned. There may be exceptions but most clear, compelling visions that reach fruition are rooted in the organization’s original DNA. That DNA generated from its original reason for existence — the essence, or nature, of the organization.

Now, it is possible to “go against one’s nature”. For a while. Maybe a decade or longer. But that misalignment wears away at internal and external components of the organization and, if it is allowed to go on too long, it requires the complete restoration or replacement of key components. Expensive in so many “bottom lines”.

If you don’t already know the original reason for your organization’s existence, take time to do the research, reflect on it, play with the wording until it clicks…or rings…or sings. You’ll know it when it happens. Then celebrate it, elevate it, and demonstrate it over and over.

If you’d like some help with any of that, contact TurningWest, Inc. – Your guide to a healthy culture and human work systems. We’re good at existential crisis recovery.

-Joel Rude

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