Simplifying Organisations

Courageous Leadership from the Heart
Blog 3 of 6: Organisational Purpose and Simplicity

In the world of organisational management, we have developed over relatively recent times Strategic Plans, Visions and Missions at the leadership level. For finance we have budgets, zero-based budgets, Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (GAAP), and Quarterly reporting. For evaluation we have Balanced Scorecards, Key Performance Indicators, benchmarking, and monitoring and evaluation systems. We also have administrative Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or Policies and Procedures, workplans, logframes, incentive schemes, and more.

There is no doubt that many organisations have had to follow a route of professionalism of management systems which I fully support.

The management tools are fine, understandable and must be in place for professionally run organisations. What I find unfortunate is that an enormous amount of time and effort is placed on these tools to overcome fraud, unethical behaviour, to control work, or to prove that the organisation is not being negligent. This is an extreme burden that restricts the way people work and also limits the focus on achieving the purpose of the organisation.

Author Ken Wilber explains this better and talks of “flatland” and “wonderland”. Flatland, is the command and control mechanisms of policies and procedures, performance indicators etc. Wonderland is a world where different things count: our personal development, our spiritual growth, our zest for life, our heart’s passion, our ability to be mutually supportive, our appreciation of others as fellow human beings. There’s also our way of being in dialogue with nature, with ourselves and with our colleagues, our capacity to learn collectively, our competence to co-create a more sustainable future, our feeling of being connected to something larger than ourselves, and our longing for meaning. Whilst we can understand the need of “flatland”, more effort is needed to develop “wonderland”.

The challenge facing leaders, managers, and change agents today is our ability to embrace a fundamental change, or shift, in the way organisations work. The more conscious you and I can be, living from the inside-out, as leaders, change agents, and colleagues in our organisations, the more able we are to widen our horizons to guide relations across our organisation and stakeholders. That means each of us taking personal responsibility for understanding the dynamics of relationships within our influence and seek to create a deeper more human – more natural, heartfelt and authentic – experience.

More human-conscious organisations operate in an environment where people, purpose and simplicity are eminent. This blog is more focussed on purpose and simplicity, leaving the people side of supporting the whole person and self-management for subsequent blogs in this series.

The Purpose of an organization is the fundamental reason why the organisation exists.

It needs to be inspirational and motivational and is what will help define stakeholder’s contribution to society and to make a difference in this world.


Why does your organisation exist? Why was it created? What does it stand for in the world? Why does it matter? And what difference would it make if it wasn’t there? For example, the UK supermarket chain Waitrose making staff ‘partners’, or an organisation having staff activities that contribute towards something of value to their community. My daughter works at The Body shop where Anita Roddick promoted “Business can be a force for good”. Both the Body Shop and the organisation’s owners Natura are ethical B-corps.

Asking these kinds of questions taps into something deeper within ourselves that inspires us. We all want to belong to something, to have the feeling that our contributions matter. Our organisational mind-set is largely cut adrift from true purpose. It is this that we need to regain in order to deal with the root causes of our systemic and organisational challenges. Carbon-reduction commitments or mental health and wellbeing initiatives are all good stuff, but they address symptoms way away from the underlying root problem of the way we relate with life itself.

Simplifying the “way we do things around here” is a necessity as organisations have become rather bureaucratic and we misdirect priorities, work and effort. We could try to simplify strategic planning and budgets, to re-focus governance, and to overhaul authority, workflow, meetings, and the use of information and in so doing provide more space for creativity and attention to the organisation’s purpose.

Strategic Planning – I have not found strategic planning to be a very useful exercise. It takes too long, is generally a senior management exercise, does not usually engage all the stakeholders and fails to gain commitment of employees. It often gets stuck in too much detail with three to five years workplans that may never get undertaken due to emerging priorities and the employees not believing the activities worthwhile. In my most recent job, and despite the Board continually asking for simplicity, our 60 to 80 page strategic and work plans either did not get sufficiently implemented or were not approved by the Board.

A purpose is more like a compass for direction rather than a map. With an inspiring and engaging purpose strategic planning can be simplified, the process speeded up, indicators to be more in line with impact, and workplans to be a much shorter time period as priorities change and new ones regularly emerge.

Budgets – As an accountant I have found the whole budget system to be painful and quite a waste of intelligent people’s time and energy. Departmental budget data and predictions are reviewed by top management, followed by revised figures up for profit-making business or down for not-for-profit organisations. The process continues to the point where the originators no longer believe the budgets have any meaning to them. Subsequently, detailed variance analysis of actual versus budget are produced, the results of which are often that actual reality turned out differently from what was previously expected. Should results become well below top management expectations we move to outsourcing, excessive cost control and authorisation procedures, downsizing and it becomes a race to the bottom.

Budgets are important but need to be part of a simplified budgeting system and used as a guide rather than an overblown command and control mechanism.

As an example, my former Foundation’s projects had very detailed workplans and budgets, quarterly reporting and variance analysis. This was an extremely time-consuming exercise and rather demoralising for all participants in the process with a to and from of emails explaining each variance. Very little information for decision making purposes came out of this information and by the time reports were approved no time or enthusiasm was left to review the impact of the project.

An implementing organisation in Mozambique had other projects where detailed budgets and quarterly financial reporting were removed completely and replaced by quarterly funds being paid based on milestones reached. Simple, and less time consuming, and according to the implementing partner organisation, more effective.

Governance in recent years has become a little boring, concentrating on variance analysis, monitoring systems, internal controls and risk assessment. Whilst needed, these are overemphasised and bureaucratic. Governance should be more to do with how the organisation is achieving its purpose. Be that in, for example, Ford automobiles parts supply chain or governments, NGO’s, business, unions, and farmers working together to eliminate child labour. The governance should be at the system level – all stakeholders together. Everyone needs to be fully knowledgeable and engaged with all that is happening at the global, national, regional and local level.

Decision making, workflow, meetings, and the use of information

The “nuts and bolts” of organisations is the way people work together. Who can make decisions, who does what, who attends meetings and how they are run, and who sees what information and how we converse and support each other.

The whole organisational culture of “how we do things around here” requires a comprehensive overhaul, promoting employee engagement, responsibility, relationship building, quality processes from the bottom to the top of every organisation.

An excellent example is a 2018 publication “Being the Change”, from the FSG organisation who consult to Foundations, not-for-profit organisations and for-profit businesses, looking at how philanthropic foundations are transforming their internal ways of working regarding staffing philosophy, structure and design, skill development, and supportive culture.

This does not mean dispensing with existing policies and procedures, meetings, teamworking, HR development, but more to ensure that it is effective and further developed in a manner promoting connection and compassion.

Evolutionary Purpose and Theory U

Frederic Laloux, in his book “Reinventing Organisations” takes the idea of organisational purpose a little further.

According to Frederic Laloux “Evolutionary purpose is where an organisation is seen as having a life and a sense of direction of their own. Instead of trying to predict and control the future, members (and stakeholders) are invited to listen in and understand what the organisation wants to become, what purpose it wants to serve”.

Laloux helps us understand his definition by saying the organisation can be viewed as an energy field with emerging potential. This implies a tapping into the energy and letting the creative potential emerge.

This, to me, plus Otto Sharmer’s Theory U applied to organisations. is the inside-out understanding of life. All stakeholders having an open mind, open heart and open will, with deep listening, compassion and trust to sense and co-create the future of the organisation.

This movement towards higher purpose, simpler planning, budgets, governance and enhancing the “way we do things around here” has a precondition that employees are supported to be more involved, responsible, energised and engaged. The topic of my next blog.

Intandem’s offer of assistance with Organisational Purpose and Simplicity:

We help leaders and organisations to uncover a higher purpose and engage in the benefits of simplifying processes, policies, procedures and more effective governance, leaving more time and energy to fulfil the organisations vision and mission.

Courageous and Conscious Leadership from the heart:

Intandem and our network of consultants can accompany you in finding clarity and quality of mind entailing individual Conscious Lives, organisational purpose and simplicity, support for the whole person, embracing self-management and collective leadership for action.

If you would like to discuss your organisation’s way forward contact