There’s an old story about two hikers who are confronted by a large bear in the woods. One calmly sits down, removes his boots and puts on a pair of running shoes. “What are you doing!” his panicked friend asks, “you’ll never outrun a bear.” “I don’t have to” he replies” I only have to outrun you”.

[pullquote]90% of CEOs don’t believe their business is moving fast enough to adapt to the changing world they face[/pullquote]I was reminded of this when reading that 90% of CEOs don’t believe their business is moving fast enough to adapt to the changing world they face. Whilst they may be right, it may not be as bad as they fear. In most cases they only need to go faster than the other guy.

It’s therefore worth asking who is wearing the running shoes in your industry. Which are the agile businesses you face, and what are they doing that you are not?

The answer tends to be the businesses that are smaller, newer, less encumbered with legacy; in other words the entrepreneurial ones.

Yet, entrepreneurial thinking actually has very little to do with scale or age. It’s a mindset. It’s therefore worth taking a really close look at what entrepreneurially-minded businesses, of whatever size, actually do to create that agility of culture and management.

A big part of what drives agile business is that they have a compelling and engaging Purpose which is authentically and consistently held in the organisation (what the Singularity University calls a Massive Transformative Purpose).  


Slide-Build6As always (see articles passim), for purpose to have any impact, it must not only be credible and congruent to the activities of the business, but also absolutely authentic. Most large organisations know this and have spent a great deal of time, trouble and money creating and communicating a clear purpose. They know that a clear purpose is the key to driving the
agility in their people, their leadership and their cultures that they need to survive in the fast-paced and ambiguous world they face. They believe that a clear purpose will engender the behaviours of alignment and engagement in their people, clarity and velocity in their management, and openness and creativity in their cultures that are the hallmarks of the agile, entrepreneurial business they seek to create.

[pullquote]Entrepreneurially-minded organisations achieve agility not by having a purpose but what they do with it. [/pullquote] Most Boards are fully invested in the purpose – it isn’t a window-dressing exercise. And most are finding it’s making not a jot of difference to the behaviours in the organization; “we’re just not getting any traction from our purpose” as one C-Suite said to me recently. There is a big gap between the purpose at Board level and the experience of employees and customers. Just why is this?

Entrepreneurially-minded organisations achieve agility not by having a purpose but what they do with it.  The ones in the running shoes just use purpose in an entirely different way. A way we find can be replicated in almost any organisation to bridge the Gap and actually harness all the power of legacy (that currently burns itself up in internal nonsense) and point it outwards to create velocity for the company.

Our experience of these agile and entrepreneurially-minded businesses reveals a clearly defined set of drivers within their cultures that are the secret to bridging the Purpose Gap.


Inspiring leadership helps.  Purpose should be inspiringly and credibly led.  But what the business believes about itself and how it behaves are more important.

Contexis Purpose Gap_v3_4The first major difference in these organisations is a strong cultural assumption of TRUST. These cultures tend to be open, compassionate and creative rather than inward looking, fearful and controlling. In more traditional cultures based on control, people are instinctively distrustful of the purpose and hence it has no power to change things for the better.[pullquote]What drives trust is a marked difference in the organisation’s approach to people.[/pullquote]

What drives trust, allows purpose to thrive and transforms cultures is a marked difference in the organisation’s approach to people.  There is no mystery to this; as Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn says, this approach can be taught.  There is also nothing soft or altruistic about it; creating trust is a major driver of exceptional productivity and efficiency.  And, as LinkedIn has discovered, the rewards of creating Cultural Agility in terms of building cultures that are innovative, open and always learning can be extraordinary. To find out more about creating agility through building a trust culture read here.

The second major driver of entrepreneurially-minded businesses is a company-wide feeling of, and desire for, OWNERSHIP.

Contexis Purpose Gap_v3_7

Unless everyone in the organisation feels – and feels allowed to feel – a powerful sense of ownership of the business it will not flow through into agile employee behaviours.  Organisations in which everyone feels an emotional investment demonstrate employee behaviours of alignment,  engagement and autonomy. And the simplest and most compelling route to creating a culture of ownership is to create a feeling of ownership of the purpose the organisation serves. [pullquote]Organisations need to reframe the relationship between the company and the employees from one of control to one of self responsibility[/pullquote] This is about a critical shift in how management at every level of the organisation thinks and behaves and about reframing the relationship between the company and the employees from one of control to one of self responsibility.  To find out more about creating agility through developing ownership and responsibility read here.

Contexis Purpose Gap_v3_1The final driver of entrepreneurially-minded businesses is the ability to manage in CONTEXT.  Whilst trust drives cultural agility, and ownership drives engagement and autonomy, the ability to manage in context defines how effectively and efficiently management behaves. 

[pullquote]Contextual Management creates clarity, adaptability and, above all, velocity in management decision-making.[/pullquote]

An increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world requires a significant amount of adaptability; and that is something that entrepreneurial management is all too familiar with. Whether because of the speed of development, newness of the market or paucity of resources, entrepreneurial management has long been adept at navigating an ambiguous world.  The key skill entrepreneurial management demonstrates is the ability to make decisions contextually to create clarity and direction rather than getting bogged down in the content. And this is a skill that can be taught.

Where management uses a clearly articulated purpose as the context for key decisions, within an environment of trust and where the whole team is willing to take responsibility, it creates enormous velocity as well as ensuring the purpose links the business up from top to bottom.  To find out more about creating agility through managing in context read here

It’s easy to agree that purpose is a good thing.  With the life expectancy of a S&P 500 company down to 15 years, it’s easy to identify that the behaviours of aligned engaged staff, open innovative cultures and agile clear-headed management are the key to survival.  The problem is the gap between purpose and behaviour. Without the entrepreneurial drivers of trust, ownership and context muddle, distrust and cynicism will persevere and purpose will not take root. Without these entrepreneurial ways of thinking no business can hope to be agile. It will always be outrun.  And in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world the bear is very large and very real.