Now that having a social purpose is essential for those of the b-schools which want to sustain the confidence of their stakeholders and attract quality employees and worthy customers, more and more heads of schools are looking for ways to jump in. Busy with daily housekeeping, shrinking revenue streams, spiralling costs and crimped careers, some are turning to expensive “thought leaders” for advice.
But beware of those who create slick or tight slogans making a case for the issues your stakeholders care about; and why you should care about them, too. This is a backwards way of going about finding your school’s purpose.
Just because some of your more visible and extra vocal stakeholders such as your students or your target corporations care about certain issues does not mean these should dictate your school’s social mission. Even if you find a social cause and a not-for-profit organisation for a potentially glorified partnership, the campaign will not be effective if it does not stem from something true to who you are.
A far more efficient and authentic process to finding your school’s purpose is to first go within. Start by asking your faculty and your employees questions such as:
- “Without quoting any brochures or marketing materials or official statements, what do you think this school is all about?”
- “When was a time you were proud to work here?”
- “What do you want your work to be known for?”
These types of open-ended conversation-starters often lead to emotional responses, and always reveal a foundational truth about an institution. This is the crucial first step in becoming purposeful. From this process, ideas about how to generate positive social impact will naturally emerge that will resonate with your stakeholders, precisely because they are authentic.
What happens if you proceed with purpose initiatives before understanding what your school is truly about? You could end up with failed, superficial campaigns that are a big waste of everybody’s time and money — or worse, alienate your target audience.
The other benefit of leading with purpose from the inside out is that fear of failure should not be a factor. If the cause feels true to your institution, go for it. Don’t over think. Be proud and confident enough to take a stand without worrying about the response.
Abide by the mantra of the old “ham honge kaamyaab ek din” [“We Shall Overcome” is a gospel song which became a protest song and a key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song is most commonly attributed as being lyrically descended from “I’ll Overcome Some Day”, a hymn by Charles Albert Tindley that was first published in 1900. It was translated to “ham honge kaamyaab ek din” by Girija Kumar Mathur].
In other words, believe in yourself.
Your institution’s or school’s purpose will not be found by commissioning a thoroughly researched white paper or creating a complicated strategy document; but rather, by unearthing what it already is. It will emerge organically from an honest interrogation of what you’re truly about, what your people are about, and what feels easy to stand behind. From there, get to work putting the idea on its feet by designing real-world engagements and activations. Then evaluate to see what worked, and what can be improved. But don’t ever digress from the core of who you are, as that is your institutional purpose.
Action driven by purpose creates impact. Devoid of impact, all vision statements are illusions or delusions.
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