Create Constancy of Purpose

By: Mark Baker

Mark Baker will be teaching the Discover Shingo Model™ Workshop at the 28th International Conference this April

When I was a young mechanical engineer at Honda Motor Company, Mr. Honda was still alive and he used to always say, “Unless we have 100% of the people in the organization engaged in making the company better, we will never be able to realize our true potential.” I remember hearing this for the first time, and over the years I have found it to be a great insight, but the real question now is how is this achieved? Mr. Honda’s statement hits on two key points of building a successful organization, namely engagement and alignment. Without both of these aspects, success will be hit or miss.

The Shingo Model’s definition of the principle Create Constancy of Purpose is “an unwavering clarity of why the organization exists, where it is going, and how it will get there,” which goes on to say, “enables people to align their actions, as well as to innovate, adapt and take risks with greater confidence.”

The principle of Create Constancy of Purpose lies in the Enterprise Alignment dimension of the Shingo Model. A consistent and clear purpose for an organization becomes the “why,” which every individual in the organization uses to assure their energies and efforts are properly aligned. But it also should be much more than just a point of reference for alignment purposes. In order to truly transform an organization, the why must be powerful and move people at their deepest level. Of course, it is essential that leaders try not to create a new why every quarter or year, but rather stick to the clear reason why the organization exists, even in challenging times.

One great example of this is at Autoliv, a tier-one automotive supplier of airbags and other safety systems. Autoliv’s mission, “We Save Lives,” is clearly and powerfully communicated everywhere you go in their organization, and people really believe it deeply. Of course, they have the typical banners, posters and signs on the walls, but they also display pictures and videos of end-use customers whose lives have been saved by their products. These pictures are dramatic examples of how their product impacts the end-use customer. Many of these testimonials used on their walls and video monitors are of Autoliv employees and their families, really bringing the message home. But this isn’t just a feel-good effort; they have been able to translate the why into actions. Each meeting at Autoliv involves the question, “What can I/we do to save more lives?” You can see it and feel it as you walk around and talk to people there. 

Does having a clear and powerful why really matter? I answer with an emphatic “Yes, it makes all the difference!” Research shows that companies with engaged employees have five times higher shareholder returns than those that don’t. If people feel good about the work their organization does, and if they feel they are valuable contributors to that good, they enjoy their work more, are energized by the work and find it rewarding, which all translates into better performance and results. Things always tend to go better when everyone in the organization is engaged and motivated to do the right things. However, we must always keep in mind that while engagement is important, engagement without alignment can be a frustrating failure for the group. Both engagement and alignment are needed in order to be successful in the end.

Even though leaders communicate the why clearly, if people in the organization consider it to be just the talk of leaders and not something leaders really believe, then it will not work. It is absolutely critical that leaders believe in the why, and show that they really believe, and are guided by it in their work too. If there is hypocrisy, employees will quickly sense it! Employees need to see and feel the genuineness of leaders in the purpose! As people feel that genuineness, they begin to accept it and believe in it themselves. It is important this why is truly embraced from the very top of the organization, all the way through each level (vertically) and division, function and department (horizontally) in order to achieve real enterprise alignment at a deep cultural level.

Dr. Shingo said that know-how is not enough. People need what he called “know-why.” By making sure you create constancy of purpose in your organization with a powerful and engaging why, you can set the stage for an incredible organizational transformation toward sustainable excellence and success!

Mark Baker is the director of Leadership Excellence at EFESO Consulting.

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