Learning & Development Manager University of Southampton Students' Union
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Book Review: Designing The Purposeful Organisation

1st Aug 2016
Learning & Development Manager University of Southampton Students' Union
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Clive Wilson’s Designing the Purposeful Organisation is a striking and compelling argument for placing ‘purpose’ at the heart of every organisation. Told in an almost personal narrative style, the author’s voice resonates throughout, embedding the key message that ‘for organisations to be successful, they must be purpose-driven’.

Although arguably a simple enough premise, Wilson guides the reader through the ‘seven conditions for organisational success (vision, engagement, structure, character, results, success and talent)’. The book is well structured to guide the reader through the process of transforming an organisation. Rather than sermonising on the theory, Wilson provides clear, actionable steps for fostering each of these key conditions.

What strikes me most about reading this book is that this is in no way a passive reading experience. From the very start, Wilson punctuates his clear, digestible explanations of each condition with activities that require further action from the reader. This might be putting the book down to watch a YouTube clip, pausing to undertake some personal reflection, or chatting to colleagues or friends that can help develop our thinking on each topic.

In fact, the many varied layers of activities make this book a real learning experience. As well as the experiential activities, there are numerous case studies to illustrate how a sense of purpose works in the ‘real world’.

In addition, Wilson includes references to research, quizzes for self-reflection and a diverse use of analogies (including examples from history and science) to aid the reader’s understanding.

Designing the Purposeful Organisation

Even after reading only a couple of chapters, I was able to apply Wilson’s concepts to my team. I was observing them in a brainstorming session as they attempted to come up with a name for a new initiative. After some fruitless efforts at puns and acronyms, I asked the team to consider what the purpose of the initiative was. They defined the purpose, collecting key words as the discussion began to build, and within minutes they had established a name and an action plan. I walked away from the torrent of excited chatter with a smile on my face – the transformative power of purpose was really inspiring.

Each chapter concludes with key questions to ask yourself and your organisation...like a checklist for driving improvement.

As well as the varied content, each chapter concludes with key questions to ask yourself and your organisation, in order to assess your progress towards becoming a truly purposeful organisation – like a checklist for driving improvement. As a self-assessment tool, these lists are invaluable. It would probably aid the reader to complete these before and after reading each chapter, as many of the activities facilitate action as the chapter progresses. These also serve to summarise the key points of each chapter into more practical, actionable steps.

Wilson concludes the book with a ‘call to action’ and an invitation to connect and continue to build on current thinking and research. There is a real sense that this philosophy lives and breathes beyond the pages of a book, and that it is a collective endeavour between Wilson and the many professionals that have contributed to his work.

Although clearly aimed at those at the very top of an organisation, I would highly recommend this book to anybody with managerial responsibility. As a manager, this book can help you define your purpose and vision, and the best ways of fostering this amongst a team in order to facilitate individual and collective successes. This book has already impacted on my practice, ensuring that, from now on, every action in my department will be purpose-driven.

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