Missionary Zeal


In a discussion with a CEO on Purpose, he remarked, “We’ve got to be careful of missionary zeal”. It was a great comment because missionary zeal that sees an organisation spearing off in an inappropriate direction is problematic. But is missionary zeal about the Purpose of the organisation really a problem?

I think not.

If the board, executive, management and staff all understand, are able to focus on, and believe how they can individually make a contribution, then you have an unstoppable force. This, of course, assumes that the Purpose is correct, but let’s assume that is the case.

When the CEO made the comment I was reminded of a remark made at a public forum by Trevor Eastwood, previous CEO and past Chairman of Wesfarmers Limited. Trevor’s comment was that, “Many people talk about shareholder value, but few understand it”. In our experience, this is true and so any missionary zeal must be accompanied with a deep and shared understanding of Purpose. That understanding must include knowledge of what drives the outcomes intended by the Purpose. For example, in businesses that deploy significant capital, it is Return on Capital that drives Shareholder Value, not just profit alone. Per Trevor’s comment, it is surprising how many boards and executive teams fail to understand this.

Do you truly, deeply understand what drives your Purpose?

For more information, please feel free to email me at john.barrington@barrington.com.au.

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