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Thought Piece | Process Design 101: A 5-Step Framework to Achieve Purpose Clarity

Chiara Rosselli, Executive Director, APROPOS Group

Whether you are designing a strategy meeting, a policy workshop or a political consultation process - the damage done by purposeless convening can be dramatic and leave you paying the price for years.

You can read more about why the lack of purpose clarity can sabotage your chances at impact in my last Process Design 101 piece.

A champion of “knowing your why” is Simon Sinek, and if you need any further convincing with regards to why knowing your purpose is the single most powerful tool for achieving impact in your work, I advise you to have a look at his brief TED talk.

Here are some reflections I had after hearing Simon's talk.

Especially when it comes down to politics - achieving any impact at all, let alone “success” is hard. It is going to require 'blood, sweat and tears' - and here is where knowing your why comes into play. The only way people will be willing to truly get onboard with your mission and make the necessary commitment to the work is if they know why they are doing it, if they believe what you believe in - which is an impossibility if, you yourself (or your organization) are incapable of formulating a clear purpose statement. Simon says, “don’t tell me what you do, tell me why you do it”. Personally, I’ve taken the advice to heart.

A Simple 5-Step Framework to Avoid Wasting Your Time and Start Designing Purpose-Driven Processes that Maximise Your Chances at Impact

There are lots of different approaches and complicated gimmicks that claim to be “the best way to find your purpose”.

I am sure a lot of them are good and I’ve personally used some myself with some satisfaction. While it can be fun to be guided through different boxes and pyramids of needs that need filling in, arrows that need connecting and priorities that need colour coding...when it comes to something as important as purpose clarity, I prefer to keep it simple.

So what I’ve done is distilled the essence of the purpose-related questions that go through my mind when I sit down with my team to conceptualise a new process.

I’ve decided to call it the “Purpose 5x5”, and it is a collection of 5 simple questions.

  1. What is the ideal outcome? This is an imagination exercise, don’t limit yourself. Think of the ideal day after - what it would feel like, what specific wins did the process achieve. Think as big as you can. You’ll never get anywhere meaningful if you aren’t at least shooting for the stars.

  2. What are hard and soft goals? Here you want to get more specific and tangible. Write down as many as you want. A soft goal could be something along the lines of “a good team spirit” or “honest conversations”, a hard goal would be “a list of 3 priorities for 2023”, “a draft policy recommendation” or “the presence of a high-level EU representative”.

  3. Are these goals really the priority? For whom and why? This is where you start to stress test your goals by doing a few things. Firstly, prioritise - so it is clear which goals are primary and which are secondary. Then, go a step further and ask yourself for whom is it a priority (there will be different priorities for different actors in the process!) and, why? If your goals survive this “stress test”, you’ve got yourself a good blueprint for what your desired impact looks like and what criteria you’ll want to use to guide your decision making along the way and evaluate your success.

  4. Can you do it? This is potentially the most important step, or rather the step that is most often neglected. We call it the “reality check” step where you try to poke holes at your logic, or rather, at the assumptions that inform your strategy. How are you planning to get there? Do you have the necessary tools, people and time to achieve your goal? Try to be as critical as you possibly can in order to test your assumptions. Adapt accordingly.

  5. How do I communicate this? To whom? How often? When I said the previous step was the most neglected, I might have lied. Almost equally forgotten is the step where purpose is clearly, repeatedly and widely communicated. This not only helps get everyone on board with the why of a given process but it creates healthy mechanisms of accountability for all those involved in a process. Ask yourself - are you certain that your key stakeholders are truly clear on what your purpose is?

I’ve called this the Purpose 5x5 framework as you can obtain a decent diagnostic of where your concept, idea or initiative falls in terms of purpose clarity in under 30 minutes by dedicating just 5 minutes of time to each of these questions, and then digging deeper as needed.

As a process designer, having dealt with designing dialogue spaces for politicians with radically different views as well as designing collaboration spaces for the heads of some of Europe’s most prestigious foundations and think tanks - let me tell you, if you are looking to avoid wasting your resources, patience and credibility on ill-designed processes that go nowhere and risk backfiring, this may be the best 25 minute investment you ever make.


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