Their Need or Your Ability: Why does your organization exist?

by cv harquail on March 31, 2011

Why does your organization exist?

  • Was it created to meet the needs of some (external) community, constituency, or market segment? Or,
  • Was it created to employ, utilize and engage your collective abilities?

Did your organization emerge because of “who you could be together” or because of what someone else needed some organization to be?


A Pair of Raisons d’Etre

In the best of situations, your organization’s raison d’etre should include both what you have and what they need. Your organization should exist because someone has a need that you collectively can fill, because of who you uniquely are.

Ideally, you want your organization to be able to link “who you are” with the needs being fulfilled, so that what you do together draws on your organization’s strengths and engages its full energy.

Driven by Uniqueness

Some organizations focus on what they have to offer and what makes them unique. They build significant strength and specific capacities, but they turn a deaf ear to the tune of the marketplace. They are out of step, and find that what they have to offer is irrelevant.

Driven by Market

More often, though, organizations are born purely out of a focus on meeting some customers’ needs. Someone sees a market opportunity and creates an organization to seize and serve that opportunity.

There’s nothing wrong with seizing a market opportunity. But in too many cases, the organization is built with people who have certain skill sets (especially, technical skills) but without a sense of clarity around what else the people in the organizations have to offer (individually and collectively). The overall combination of skills, people, design, and perspective end up being ill-suited to what needs to be done.

The organization needs to do more than just to meet the current market need; it also has to serve the market or the constituency over the longer term, with empathy, insight, and innovation. When an organization cannot draw on its own resources to stay in touch with or anticipate constituents’ needs, they can neither grow with nor lead their stakeholders.

Worse, when organizations dance to the tune of some marketplace, they can step too far away from their indigenous ability. They end up contorting themselves to be something that ‘the market’ wants, estranging themselves from what gives the organization coherence and meaning.


Without coupling who you are with what they need, your organization is either incapable or irrelevant.

Each situation is a bummer, and each is avoidable.

Balancing Your Reasons for Being

Look inside.

When I talk with organizations who are focussing too much on ‘marketing’, ‘branding’, and reputation, I encourage them to step back and clarify who they are deep inside, and to claim what makes them unique. Then, we can work on how to link this uniqueness with a market need so that the organization can create real value.

Look outside.

And, when I work with organizations that are all about themselves- how great they are, what a legacy they have, how terrific and appealing their brand is (to them) — I encourage them to consider why this matters, and to whom. I ask them to explore where this uniqueness can make a difference in the world, so that they can use who they are to extend themselves towards a client need in the way that no other organization can.

When an organization can draw on its own unique ability, to serve a real need, the organization and its members find that their work is both meaningful and sustainable. And, when the needs of clients, markets or constituents are served by an organization that is uniquely capable, the ways these needs are met is more skillful, more clever, and more lasting.

Connecting the market need with the organization’s uniqueness is what creates real value — for all stakeholders.

See also:

Is Authenticity the key to being “Meaningfully Different”?
Beyond Positioning: Establishing Authentic Optimal Distinctiveness
Can an organization be too different?: The Strategic Value of Optimal Distinctiveness

Images from Flickr:
Dancing Joey from FlyNutAA
Dancing! from JeanninePC99

{ 1 comment }

davidburkus April 4, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Good post. Ironically, Tanmay Vora at QAspire just posted a guest post of mine very similar to it: mainly that the purpose of business is not profit.

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