Purpose orientation

Shanil Fernando

“Your purpose statement becomes your organisation’s strategic plan and path to success; it will dictate how and what your organisation hopes to achieve in its operations,” declares Shanil Fernando.

Commenting on the vitality of the vision statement of an organisation, Fernando says: “The idea of a vision statement originated in an era in which company decisions served only a single stakeholder. In today’s context, with several stakeholders, the concept of the corporate vision has evolved into more of ‘why’ your organisation operates as it does. The answer to this question becomes your purpose.”

Fernando believes that establishing a strong purpose and communicating this to employees is extremely important. “Employees are the drivers of your vision or purpose; and if they do not understand it, identify with it and embrace it, you have failed in your role as a leader,” he points out.

He goes on to say that “it is your duty as a leader, to ensure that the vision or purpose is clearly communicated so that it can serve as a foundation for setting goals. One shared outcome or goal is a unifier, making employees feel as though they are comrades sharing one journey, working towards a common cause.”

“As the organisation grows, the vision or purpose becomes even more important, and the communication of it clearly and often – with examples – becomes paramount,” he adds.

Drawing from his 20 plus years of experience in the IT industry, Fernando believes that the most successful vision or purpose statements are those that speak to the hearts of people.

“The statements that I have seen work well have a strong social element, or game changing or disrupting opportunity to them. To roll out a remarkably successful purpose initiative, you need to put in time and effort to ensure that it permeates the entire organisation,” he states.

Fernando emphasises that “the purpose must be at the core of everything that employees do, from the point of recruitment to customer servicing, from stakeholder management to corporate social responsibility (CSR) – and not a mere sentence that is repeated in an annual report or company prospectus.”

He continues: “The vision or purpose statement needs to be a memorable and inspiring summary of why your organisation exists, and what it stands for at its core. It must be clear, concise and easy to communicate. Too often, organisations use complicated jargon that employees, stakeholders and customers can barely comprehend, and which contradicts the very essence of a purpose statement.”

The most effective way in which companies could cascade their vision or purpose statement across an organisation is to gain buy in by encouraging employees to ask questions, and share their perceptions of the statement and how they will live the organisation’s vision every day at work.

“For example, encourage the formation of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committees, culture committees, CSR committees and so on, which can ensure that the purpose transcends the page into real life outcomes. The larger the organisation, the more frequently communication and enforcement of the vision statement is required to be successful,” Fernando asserts.

Reflecting on whether he believes the vision statement is truly implemented and if it can evolve as the organisation grows, he remarks: “Your purpose is your north star; what you set your sights on despite the impact of external distracters such as market volatility, pandemics, economic crises and so on.”

He concludes: “So in short, you cannot change your purpose; it must stay constant. But what you can do is evolve your business and remain agile in order to achieve the purpose that you have defined.”

Shanil Fernando is the Managing Director – Sri Lanka and Senior Vice President – Engineering of Sysco LABS