Defining purpose; What if there really is no spoon?

While leading the strategy design journey for my son’s hockey club, I was often asked why we weren’t comparing ourselves against other hockey organizations out of the gate. In other words, shouldn’t we be doing a SWOT as Step 1 in the process? My pointed response; what if the other organizations have it all wrong?! Better yet, what if we could design a new business model where we work with our competition or, create a new space where we have no competition? In the movie, The Matrix, Keanu Reeves learns the world isn’t what it appears in the classic scene there is no spoon. Aside from enjoying pop culture classics, I struggled to find a better analogy for how we traditionally look at our current business environment and challenge the status quo. Before we figure out the competition, let’s figure out who we are first. This means finding our purpose first, this is Step 1. We will build our strategy and culture on top of our purpose, including how we chose to see our competition.

“My pointed response; what if the other organizations have it all wrong?! Better yet, what if we could design a new business model where we work with our competition or, create a new space where we have no competition?”

I pushed back on the group a bit because I have found it challenging to design a “meaningful” strategy without having a clear sense of purpose at your core. We could easily stand up a strategic plan over a weekend, but without answering some fundamental questions around who we are, what’s the point? Finding your purpose is hard, it takes a lot of time and a lot of collaboration. It challenges you to think inside-out before introducing the rigor and analysis around defining your strategy and culture, that’s Step 2. Taking a purpose-driven approach also facilitates growth in new ecosystems. It also allows organizations to broaden their mission, create a holistic value proposition, and deliver lifetime benefits to their customers. It changes how you look at your current business environment, and start to understand maybe there is no spoon.

Our strategy design journey started with examining our purpose, by looking inward first. We are a fabulous hockey organization with almost 70 years of history, we need to build on our DNA. We are a well-known brand. In addition to looking in the rear-view mirror, we also looked ahead and discussed the rapidly changing landscape in hockey itself. We needed to look in both directions to start and understand what is at our core. Our forward looking discussions included how our organization would deal with current and future challenges including; the declining participation in hockey, the rising costs of playing the game and the other options available in the sports world besides hockey. This is the part where Keanu Reeves and The Matrix comes in as we question our own reality! By combining the retrospective and the prospective views of our world, we were positioning ourselves to have a better chance at answering the question “why do you want to play hockey for our organization?”.

We rolled up our sleeves and started to explore, ‘Who are we?’. To help with the discovery, we modified the Golden Circle with a series of questions around the outside, providing enough guidance to test each idea. The main questions being; what do we create, what do we believe and how do we inspire? We also ran through a number of exercises including a role play at the registration table, on opening day in the year 2030. But it was clear nothing stuck out as our raison d’etre. Everyone had a different perspective on our purpose which wasn’t surprising, but I was taken aback by the lack of debate back and forth about what was at the core of our organization. In hindsight, maybe that was the point. Everyone was working through their own ideas and not ready to commit to the insights of others in the group.

Everyone left the call with more homework to complete over the coming week before we’d meet again. Their job was to absorb what we’d covered off in the prior two remote strategy design sessions and come up with a better purpose statement in the bullseye, than the purpose statement we’d ended the call with. By the end the week we started to get the feedback we’d asked the team to complete. Everyone was getting more dialed into our new reality and how we can influence our environment moving forward. Spoiler alert; Keanu learns the spoon exists only in the Matrix, which really means it doesn’t exist at all. 

I worked with our President to consolidate the essence of each statement into a single purpose statement. A couple of edits later we ended up with a draft purpose statement that we will refine at the end of the process. The essence is correct and this will help us move forward, while we continue to play with the wording:

“Provide a community-building environment so that youth have the opportunity to develop and grow their potential, while having fun through sport.”

There are many clubs who use the word “community”. The question is how do we define and use the word within our organization? We now define community using three different lenses; at our rink, within our municipality and within the broader hockey community. Our purpose statement allows us to focus on the first lens; within our four walls of our rink. We want to continue providing an inclusive and diverse environment where everyone feels safe and welcome irrespective of background. The truth is, we welcome everyone today but we have some work to do if we want to create a “community-building environment” and stay true to our purpose. We need to build our new reality, not just talk about it.

We also want to become consistent on how we provide every athlete that joins our organization with “the opportunity to develop and grow”. I love this part of our purpose statement as this has a “nature/nurture” aspect to it. We want to help build a better human on and off the ice. What’s cool is we are all aligned on providing the opportunity to develop and grow with an athlete experience that is driven by coaches, families and volunteers. It was very surreal how that piece stood out and came together for everyone. More on that in my next post.

Since coaches, families and volunteers will drive the customer experience, all 3 will most likely become the pillars we use to build out our Strategic Plan. Note, the words “community” and “develop” in our purpose statement will get everyone thinking about how to walk-the-talk. And walk-the-talk is where I’ll pick up in my next post as we continue to design our strategy, take a leadership role in our local community and the larger hockey community. This will become our Matrix. I have full confidence our organization will define it, align it and step up to deliver it. If not, we’ll need to return to our purpose statement and revise it. After all our purpose has to be about who we are, what we create and what we believe. It has nothing to do with the competition, status quo or, with spoons.