Purpose, Vision, Strategy & Culture in a nutshell

For quite some time I struggled with all those different terms and how they relate: purpose, vision, strategy, culture, the Why, the What, the How. What comes first: strategy or culture? What is a vision in relation to a purpose? Is “the How” the strategy or more like the vision?   I got confused by so many models around purpose and “the Why” and so on. So I decided to develop my own model, based on the client projects and a personal best practice.

The 3-layer nutshell: 

easter egg

  1. THE WHY- THE PURPOSE

In the very center there is a purpose, or the “WHY”. The purpose describes the underlying intention of the founder(s) of an organization. Most of the time we can not only find one purpose, but many purposes, a hierarchy of purposes. You can go deeper and deeper by continuing to ask the Why questions. When a company e.g. claims the purpose to be “Connecting people”, you can ask Why do you want to connect people? If a company’s purpose is to make the world a better place, you can ask: Why? This is a super interesting exploration, going from the OUTER PURPOSE, or visible, or proclaimed and invented purpose, to the DEEPER PURPOSE, which is the very source of the energy. Coming back from Israel one can see that in every company, no matter what they do, the underlying DEEPER PURPOSE is “Nation Building”. This is their real energetic source.

    2. THE WHAT – THE VISION

The VISION tells you WHAT you want to achieve. The Vision expresses the purpose as a specific and desired future state, making it tangible and operational. Most of the time it contains a timeline, numbers, something tangible that can be measured, imagined and achieved. For Facebook the translation of the purpose “making the world a better place by making it more connected” the Vision could have been “2 billion users from all over the world by 2020” (just an example, I don’t really know). For another client organization whose purpose is “reducing poverty by inclusive education” a Vision is “10 Million kids with disabilities in inclusive classrooms in the region of Subsahara” or so.

  3. THE HOW – Strategy & Culture 

There is a long discussion going on: what is more important – what comes first, what is culture? I think, that both are on the same level, they are co-arising, and both, Strategy & Culture, are powered by purpose and vision. I see very successful organizations that put the similar effort into crafting, defining, practicing and cultivating a specific culture as they put into creating a powerful strategy on how to achieve the Vision: one How is on the content level, and the other HOW on the behavioral though Cultural level.

In best case they support each other and are not either/or, one more important than the other one. They both are an expression of the companies purpose on different levels and key factors to realize the Vision. The HOW describes WHAT needs to be DONE and HOW it needs to be done. Culture is not just happening but consciously crafted by explicit values and intentional principles and leadership.