3 tests of a good purpose statement

I am a bit of a quality nerd. I did a masters in Quality Assurance in Health and Social Care at Leeds  in the 1980’s. I would enthusiastically tell people about my course to be met with facial expressions of mild disbelief and comments that questioned whether anyone could find QA interesting.  Mark Cannon, a colleague from Here introduced me to Andy Brogan from EasierInc, as someone who could be helpful around systems, quality improvement and governance in Wellbeing Teams. I heard that as an opportunity to talk to someone who could be as fascinated about quality and systems as I am.  I was right. Jane and I met Andy last Thursday in the bar of Hotel du Vin in Birmingham, where we spent a couple of hours wrestling with how to talk about purpose, and learning that the word ‘clean’ does n’t quite mean what I thought it meant.

This is the process that Andy took us through, in his words, with my responses, just in case you are one of the few people who find this as exciting as we did.  

Andy: “We all know that clarity of purpose is an essential foundation for doing good work. My experience has been that this needs to happen at two levels of description.

  1. An overarching purpose that captures what we are here for – the difference we exist to make in the world. This will be ‘big picture’ but shouldn’t be vague. It should keep us anchored in something concrete but ambitious.
  2. Operational descriptions of success. These should help us to think about what we would hope to see happening ‘in the work’ then to connect those things to what they are achieving. Such descriptions provide a vehicle for reflective practice and innovation – a really short, tight feedback loop that can be used from moment to moment, systematically and by everyone.”

OK, when he asked this I thought I was on safe ground. We spend a lot of time thinking about purpose – both individual purpose rooted in values, and our team’s purpose. I confidently described my purpose as:

“To change how we support each other – when we need help around health and care, in teams and in communities”.

No. That was n’t what Andy was after. I sat back mildly deflated and slightly defensive. I had thought a lot about my purpose, and took a breath to start thinking about it differently. 

Andy explained that we needed to express if from the perspective of the people we want to serve, who the Wellbeing Teams would support.  To get there, and in everything else, we needed to go back to our values, and then look at how we crafted a different kind of purpose statement. I wrote our values along the top of the flip chart paper.

We discussed our core values, and also our experiences and understanding of what matters to people who need support.  Andy suggested that we keep our purpose statement simple and as free as possible from any descriptions of how it will be delivered or measured. He suggested some tests of a good purpose statement – not hard rules but useful rules of thumb. Andy suggested three:

  1. The ‘Ron Seal’ test – it does what it says on the tin.

Could anyone reading your purpose statement ‘get it’ without needing it explained?

  1. It articulates value  – what not how.

It doesn’t describe an issue, activity, quality measure or any other ‘inside out’ perspective. Andy gave the example of a pathology lab he had been working with, where, for example, purpose could be variously described as:

  • “To prevent unnecessary tests” (issue led).
  • “To provide test results” (activity led).
  • “To provide a service in line with ISO standards” (quality led).
  • “To enable informed choices about care and treatment” (value led).

The last of these is the sort of thing we were after.

  1. If the opposite isn’t true then it doesn’t need saying.

Andy suggested that we should assume that a low quality, cost ineffective service that you can’t afford to provide isn’t what you are after and so we shouldn’t bother stating that your purpose is to deliver a high quality, cost effective and affordable one.

The purpose statement that we developed is this:

We do whatever it takes so that you can do what matters to you at home and in your community.

Does it pass the tests?

Does it do what is says on the tin? Would everyone ‘get it’. It does n’t sound like homecare. I started with ‘we provide the practical support that you need to live well at home.’ but this did not work, because what Wellbeing Teams offer is more than practical support, it is compassionate care and support that includes emotional support. Community Circles are part of how Wellbeing Teams work, and they simply work together to help the person with anything that matters to them. Together then, Wellbeing Workers and Community Circles will try and do whatever it takes to enable people to live will at home and be part of their community. Does it sound too vague? Please let me know.

Next Andy introduced us to a way of using the word ‘clean’ that I had never heard before. I will introduce you to that in another blog, as we went from purpose to inputs.

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