Albu On Strategy

Are You Managing With Purpose, or Just Managing Activities?

I have had the pleasure of knowing Ashok Vasudevan about 7 years and over the years I have enjoyed our discussions about a topic we both hold dear, Strategic Planning.  Ashok is the CEO of Preferred Brands International, makers of Tasty Bites, a line of Indian and pan-Asian cuisine.  Launched in 1995, the company participates in four categories, Indian entrees, Asian noodles, meal inspirations and rice.  Visit the Tasty Bites website for a closer look:

Over drinks recently, Ashok said something to me that I found quite simple, yet profound.  He said, “Companies leaders tend to manage activities rather than manage with purpose.”  At Albu Consulting, we can certainly appreciate this statement because we believe a robust, well-articulated strategic direction can make a significant difference to an organization.  In addition to Vision and Mission, Managing with Purpose will focus any organization on doing the right things, not just doing.

I asked Ashok to explain how Preferred Brands manages with purpose.  He began with an analogy of someone learning to ride a bicycle for the first time.  The rider is told not look down at the front wheel or at his feet on the pedals, or he will fall.  Rather, he is told to look ahead—focus attention on the road in front of him to avoid pot holes and obstacles, and be prepared to change direction if necessary to reach his destination.   Similarly, when driving a car, the driver might occasionally look at the rear view mirror, but her main focus is to look ahead at the road in front of her.  In both these analogies, looking ahead is the “Purpose.”

Let me give you an example of how managing with purpose works at Preferred Brands.  The strategic plan statement is broken down to four parts, and the first part is the corporate purpose.  Everything the company does throughout the organization stems from this Purpose, and as Ashok explains it, this corporate purpose, “gives birth to sub-purposes.”   Preferred Brands’ corporate purpose is, “To build an organization that is socially responsible and provide consumer delight.”  At the functional level, the Tasty Bite Research Center’s sub-Purpose is, “Provide consumer delight in a socially responsible way,” which is achieved through healthier products, great taste, good value, and real convenience.   Therefore, the work the Research Center does on cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes have much more meaning to the function and the corporation.

Each of the functional sub-purposes results in objectives and a set of activities with quarterly deliverable.  These activities are easier to define, understand and gain support because they have a direct line to the corporate purpose and sub-purpose.  Ashok explains it this way, “If the line is broken between the purpose and activities, we are only managing activities, and not managing with purpose.” 

Let me close with a quote from Peter Drucker, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”  The most important reason you will invest in a strategic plan is to avoid doing things that you should not be doing at all.  Strategy management is about making choices within the framework of your company’s future Purpose, Vision, and Mission.  Like the beginner bicycle rider analogy, don’t manage activities, rather look ahead and Manage with Purpose. 

We welcome your comments and question, so please e-mail us or call. 

Posted in Leadership, Newsletter, Strategy Management.