An Exercise in Hope

Mike Pelfini — 15 October 2015

Articulating WHY your company exists, paired with good design and implementation planning, leads to sustained growth and achievement.  The key is to be clear about the WHY, and to communicate it authentically, persistently, and passionately.

Hope is what gives meaning to a company’s mission.  It adds a critical compelling aspect to the future state towards which a company is heading.

It’s often said that “hope” is not a strategy.  Business priorities and goals can’t be achieved by wishing them to life.  In my 30+ years as a teacher, senior leader and CEO, I’ve learned that it’s equally true that any strategy not founded on hope is doomed to fail.  Hope is not a wish.  Hope is not inactivity.  Hope is the foundational DNA and at the heart of any enterprise.  It’s WHY you build a plan founded on sound strategic principles.  Hope implies possibility, when challenges seem impossible to get past or when it’s not clear what will be, as you emerge across the next threshold.  Hope is why you get out of bed in the morning!

Hope is what gives meaning to a company’s mission.  It adds a critical compelling aspect to the future state towards which a company is heading.  Hope resides in the same category as imagination.  It’s about coming to something uniquely new.  Hope is conceptual, metaphorical, intuitive and fundamentally creative.

Of course any enterprise heading for success must also clearly define how it’s going to achieve success. As Simon Senek describes it, “A WHY without the HOW…has a very high probability of failure.”  Senek equates defining the WHY with the generative passion that launches a business.  The HOW will, and must come.  But without first defining WHY the enterprise or cause should be pursued, the most detailed and well-conceived implementation plan will ultimately become a vast waste of resources.

At one point in my work as a social sector CEO, my company was struggling with overseeing what had become a very broad scope of services.  Some of these services had merged or become acquired into our scope.  One we’d begun delivering on the strength of start-up funding that was available at the time it was launched.  Yet another service was struggling along—under-funded, over-staffed, and in our mix because of the unspoken but widely accepted premise that “We’ve always done it!”  I gathered my team and we began a process that started with really defining our WHY, while resisting the temptation to problem-solve our current state.  It wasn’t easy, and we struggled at first, but eventually we were able to come to that place where passion, imagination, and possibility live.  We were then ready to build our plan, which included a refined mission; a newly articulated vision towards which we’d marshal our resources for the next 3 years; and initial strategic priorities, goals and objectives.

By itself, hope is indeed not a strategy—but like a persistent ember that retains its glow amidst the ashes of failed, outdated, or not-yet-conceived strategies, hope ignites the highest achievement possible for your company and for you, as a leader.

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