Does your work make sense?

Does your work make sense?

In search of the Purpose, the 'North Star' that guides the enterprise

Why does the company exist? How can it have a positive impact on the surrounding environment and within the structure itself? What answers should be given to customers, employees, investors and the public? Milano Home asked Rosario Sica, CEO of OpenKnowledge, whose recent editorial work focused on the concept that expresses corporate identity


How does the Purpose translate into concrete actions? How do companies put this into practice? What is the impact of this approach on the organisation itself?


These are some of the questions raised by Rosario Sica, author of the book 'Il valore del Purpose', published by Guerini Next.


"The stronger the purpose, the higher the chances of growth," says Sica, managing director of OpenKnowledge of which he was a founding partner in 2008 - a company that is part of the Bip Group - and a keen scholar of the management of innovation processes and digital technologies. Sica's work offers food for thought, analyses the path leading to the definition of the Purpose and highlights the need for a systemic approach in defining the model.



Professor, what is the Purpose?


"It is the highest goal, the North Star that guides the enterprise. It is the search for meaning, the reason for an organisation's existence and it emphasises the unique contribution it makes to society and the world. It goes beyond making profits - although it may lead to their generation - and is often linked to fundamental values and principles. In the organisational context, it is the Purpose that plays a leading role in directing change, the companies that have codified their Purpose are also the most profitable ones'.


The Purpose may be relatively static when it is very much rooted in the organisation's culture and core values, but it must be dynamic when the organisation needs to adapt to significant changes in its context or objectives


The Purpose is, therefore, a statement of identity that characterises and differentiates each company, highlights the reasons for the existence of an organisation, expresses its ethical sense and guiding values regarding sustainability, morality, authenticity and responsibility, and facilitates the involvement of stakeholders understood as employees and customers ('the Purpose of an organisation must be the same for both'), investors and communities.


"Employee participation in the creation of the purpose is crucial, otherwise the life of the company will suffer as a result of this starting deficit.


The importance and the strategic nature of this tool are therefore very clear, it must be stated in all company policies and business strategies, but in order to define it, we must first be clear about its scope, avoiding harmful overlaps and, above all, keeping a good distance between concepts that may appear complementary on the surface.


"Let us start by saying that purpose, mission and vision are three very different principles. In a nutshell, we can say that the Purpose tells us why an organisation exists, the deep motivations behind it, the long-term impact we want to have on the world; the Mission tells what an organisation does, takes into account the economic objectives, defines who our customers and consumers are; the Vision explains what an organisation aims to become, where we are heading, what the trajectory is, what position we want to reach'.


The Purpose is the search for meaning, the Mission draws the guidelines, the Vision indicates the trajectory. The Values intersect all three principles


Underlying all three concepts 'are Values that reflect the core beliefs of a company and represent what the organisation believes in. The Values must intersect with any meaningful statement for the organisation, hence also the above three principles while noting that while Mission and Vision indicate the operational directions, Purpose drives the soul of the company'.


The Values are as essential to the construction of the Purpose as the Archetypes. In the book, Sica shows the 'Wheel of Archetypes', which aims to define the positioning of the organisation. The author links the concept of Purpose with the theory of 'Brand Archetypes' devised by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson for the study and orientation of brand communication.


"Aligning the Purpose with the archetype at the core of an organisation," writes Sica, "can bring greater coherence to the corporate culture and enhance the identity of both the brand and the company itself.


The model conceived by the two authors consists of twelve archetypes divided into four quadrants, each of which has a different value and symbolic orientation that outline the following macro-objectives:


1)   give an order, a structure to the world


2)   strive for an ideal goal


3)   leave our mark on the world


4)   connect with (and connect) others


Aligning the Purpose with the archetype at the core of an organisation can bring greater coherence to the corporate structure and helps to enhance the identity of both the brand and the company itself


"If the Purpose of an organisation is harmonised with an archetype that resonates deeply, a sense of affinity and loyalty is established. Customers are more likely to engage with brands that share their values while employees are more motivated to pursue the goals of a company with which they identify. Linking the archetypes to the codification of the Purpose reinforces coherence and homogeneity'.


This is a path that unites large and small companies as well as shops, concept stores, small and large companies located in the territory and which, even though they have a circumscribed pool of users, cannot help but give themselves their own identity.


"Many small businesses are purpose level without knowing it. The absence of senior figures and the simultaneous concentration of decisions in the hands of one person do not bring out the framework of rules and values implicit in the structure. The impossibility of codifying a purpose statement makes it impossible to make it explicit and share it'.


The Purpose must be meaningful and aspirational and it must authentically reflect the company’s essence and its fundamental objectives


Sica now heads OpenKnowledge and has great faith in Generation Z ('young people are the first to be purpose driven: if things don't make sense and have positive consequences, they don't go along with the project). For several years now he has been turning his attention to organisational development issues, defining the operational methods that corporate structures must implement in order to aim for shared growth with wellbeing, both that of the environmental kind and the wellbeing of the entire stakeholder chain. He is on the scientific committee of the Observatory on Purpose, which aims to monitor the evolution, scopes and models conceived by different companies with the objective, among others, of making it attractive and stimulating for new generations


Starting from the studies on purpose conducted by Raniay Gulati and George Serafeim, the author made many of the positions of the two Harvard Business School professors his own.


"The issue of profitability does not conflict with the ethicality of purpose.  Granted that all companies run with financial cycles that only focus on profit are going bankrupt, it is not scandalous to aspire to make a profit, the question is what you do with that money. Similarly, 'the issue of credibility is increasingly perceived as a beacon from which the light of the company spreads. You can set up a trust over a longer or shorter period of time, but it can be lost in an instant'.


Sica adds to the more intrinsically corporate aspects and criteria discussed and explored in great detail, a theme that could be described as a kind of invitation, a gentle nudge to devote more time to dialogue. ‘One mistake that is perpetuated is not addressing conflict in dialogue. Confrontation is basic, it is necessary to be able to find a synthesis through mediation in order to arrive at a shared and common direction, and in this young people are more open and willing than their boomer colleagues'.


In the book, ample space is reserved for different companies to analyse the purpose of each of them. Thus Doxa's story is told through its chairperson Marina Salomon; that of Zambon SpA, which operates in the pharmaceutical field, by its chairperson Elena Zambon; and that of Unicef Italy with marketing and fundraising director Chiara Aluffi Pentini, by Serena Porcari, president of Dynamo Academy and CEO of Dynamo Camp, and by Carlo Alberto Pratesi, professor of Economics and Business Management at Roma Tre University.   

A cybernetic physicist, pioneer of social business: the portrait of Rosario Sica

Having trained as a cybernetic physicist, Rosario Sica specialises in digital transformation processes and has a long track record in managing complex programs. He has taught and still teaches at several Italian universities and abroad where he has spent most of his time. From the Fiji Islands to Vietnam, from Chile to New Zealand, from Australia to Cape Town, Sica has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge that he now shares and disseminates as CEO of OpenKnowledge, a pioneering consultancy firm specialising in social business and digital transformation. He has also collaborated with the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation).

'The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why'. The quotation by Mark Twain (pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens) is a kind of cornerstone from which Sica starts to explore horizons that are constantly changing as a result of the new needs of organisations. Purpose is only the latest of the topics that have come under his lens; everything related to the management of innovation processes is the result of in-depth analysis and meticulous research.

Before 'Il valore del Purpose' (Guerini Next) Sica's last published books were 'Employee Experience: il lato umano delle organizzazioni nella quarta rivoluzione industriale' and Dall'employee experience all'employee caring Le organizzazioni nell'era post Covid-19 (Franco Angeli).