by Ken Snyder
“Create Constancy of Purpose” is a principle in the Enterprise Alignment dimension of the Shingo Model™. When we developed the Shingo Model, we borrowed heavily from the best thinkers who have influenced the operational excellence movement. In the case of this principle, we borrowed the wording from Dr. W. Edwards Deming. This is the first point of Deming’s 14 points, he said:
“Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, stay in business, and to provide jobs.”
Within the Shingo Model, our working definition of this principle is:
“An unwavering clarity of why the organization exists, where it is going, and how it will get there enables people to align their actions, as well as to innovate, adapt, and take risks with greater confidence.”
Research Confirms that “Purpose Drives Behaviors”
A few years ago, the Shingo Institute developed a survey tool known as Insight. Insight is designed to help us understand better what behaviors are occurring in an organization and, also, what factors are causing those behaviors. One of the initial findings from the data suggests that the single most important principle in driving ideal behaviors is whether or not organization members understand and agree with the purpose of the organization.
The vast majority of people who respond to the survey report that even if a system makes it difficult to do the right thing, they will do the extra work necessary to work around the system and do the right thing – but only if they know the purpose and agree with it.
A Story of Best Practice
Let me share a story that demonstrates outstanding alignment of thinking and behaviors – a company called Autoliv. Autoliv produces air bags for automobiles. Autoliv is one of the best in the world about unifying people in the organization around a constant purpose, which they summarize in their motto of “We save lives.”
I have visited Autoliv facilities dozens of times. Each time, I test everyone I can with the inquiry: “Please tell me about the most recent improvement idea you implemented.” Every time I have made this inquiry, the person has tied the improvement back to “We save lives.” Let me give an example of a typical conversation with an Autoliv team member by sharing an actual conversation with an internal accountant.
Me: “Please tell me about the most recent improvement idea you implemented.”
Autoliv Accountant: “I would love to.” The accountant proceeded to describe an accounting practice change that led to a decrease in work-in-process inventory (WIP). The accountant then described the amount of cash freed up by WIP reduction. The accountant then described how the freed-up cash was invested back into research and development to fund some research into a safer air bag technology. Then she stated, “This new technology will help save lives.”
I was dumbstruck. Wow!
Purpose, Means, and Higher Purpose
Dr. Shigeo Shingo, our namesake, described this process of how achieving one purpose becomes the means to achieve a higher purpose, and then that higher purpose becomes the means to achieve an even higher purpose, etc.
“We must learn to think of making progress as moving toward goals, because goals often become means at a higher level. When we think about a goal we are really considering the means toward an even higher-order goal. …
“Goals and means trade places with one another in a chain, and the means or measures we choose will vary considerably depending upon what level of goal we recognize.”
This process of converting goals into means to achieve higher-purpose goals has been described by noted scholars, Prof. Gerald Nadler and Prof. Shozo Hibino, as “purpose expansion.” I was amazed at how eloquently a staff accountant at Autoliv gave such a perfect description of “purpose expansion.”
Our goal in including “Create Constancy of Purpose” in the Shingo Model is to encourage all organizations to align and unify everyone in the organization around a higher goal and purpose.
Problems and Suggestions
In teaching this principle, we have run into one consistent problem. In fact, I’ve sat through many ENTERPRISE ALIGNMENT & RESULTS workshops and this problem has come up every time. When we teach this principle, someone inevitably asks a question such as, “What should you do if the organization has a constancy of purpose but people just don’t agree with it?” An example often given is something like the organization just exists to make money for the owners. The owners and the leaders may have a clear, constant purpose, but the purpose doesn’t inspire engagement by the other people in the organization.
The discussion inevitably leads to the need to unify all the people in the organization around a meaningful purpose – something that will not happen with a clear but uninspiring purpose such as to make money for the owners. We have even created some materials to address this issue in our current curriculum.
Various people have suggested rewording this principle to address this problem. Some suggestions include:
- “Create Unity of Purpose,” or a variation, “Create Unity of Purpose Around a Shared Vision.” This addresses the concept of unity. However, it is ambiguous about the action verb that we like in every statement of a principle – is it “create” or “unify”? And it loses the word “constancy” that has become such an integral message in Deming’s work.
- “Unify Around a Constant Purpose.” This wording clarifies the action verb and keeps the link to Deming’s work.
We are persuaded by the clear action verb and the link to Deming’s work and will support a change from “Create Constancy of Purpose” to “Unify Around a Constant Purpose.”
This is the principle I think about and study more than any other. I have found many useful resources that have helped me. Let me recommend a few:
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek – and his TED talk on the golden circle.
- Ikigai by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyl
- Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson.
 Shingo Model handbook, 2019
 Mumford, Troy, Shingo Conference presentation, Copenhagen, Denmark, December 2016
 Shingo, Shigeo, The Sayings of Shigeo Shingo (English), p. 67-68
 See Nadler, Gerald and Hibino, Shozo, Breakthrough Thinking: The Seven Principles of Creative Problem Solving