Promoting Purpose in Agile Environments

Promoting Purpose in Agile Environments

Promoting Purpose in Agile Environments
via by Anthony Coggine

Agile environments increasingly are becoming a popular option for organizations large and small. Although initially created as a solution for small software development teams with short budgets and complex scopes, it’s been adopted (and refashioned) for all industries and team sizes.

Agile Methodologies: Why They Work

The agile approach seems obvious to us now, but back in 2001 when the idea was incepted, it was a revolutionary one: Give employees the room they need to get the job done and let them do it. Throw out extensive documentation and overbearing technical documents for constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly reassessing and growing workplaces.

“In 2001, a group of experienced software developers got together and realized that they were collectively practicing software development differently from the classical waterfall methodology,” wrote Isaac Sacolick for InfoWorld’s “What is Agile Methodologies?

“This group came up with the Agile Manifesto that documented their shared beliefs in how a modern software development process should operate,” he continued. “They stressed collaboration over documentation, self-organization rather than rigid management practices and the ability to manage to constant change rather than lock yourself to a rigid waterfall development process. From those principles was born the agile methodology for software development.”

How the Framework Works: Higher Purpose

An agile approach pursues the production of top-tier software. Without an agile framework (or something like it), there is often a distinct lack of purpose-driven principles. From an agile framework, companies can create strong cultures.

Why is higher purpose so important? After the great recession hit in 2008, we were left with some very important questions amid a financial disaster, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in 80 years. When the economic foundations of our world were rattled, many firms were forced to answer what their higher purpose really was.

Without the promise of a steady paycheck or a fat margin, there is all too often an absence of purpose. Even when the economy is performing in a spectacular manner, a lack of higher meaning pervades many mediocre organizations.

“Although a higher purpose does not guarantee economic benefits, we have seen impressive results in many organizations,” reported Harvard Business Review writer Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor. “And other research—particularly the Gartenberg study, which included 500,000 people across 429 firms and involved 917 firm-year observations from 2006 to 2011—suggests a positive impact on both operating financial performance (return on assets) and forward-looking measures of performance (Tobin’s Q and stock returns) when the purpose is communicated with clarity. So, the purpose is not just a lofty ideal; it has practical implications for your company’s financial health and competitiveness.”

How to Create Purpose With Agile Principles

Joe Robles, the former CEO of USAA, found this utter lack of meaning to be of immense concern for every level of his organization. Concerned about his employees, he visited them to discern where the company culture could improve. He was surprised to find that his call center employees were happy to collaborate on every level.

It became his mission to imbue this type of mission-driven attitude to every employee and everyone in leadership, through major cultural education. How can other organizations emulate USAA’s successful purpose-driven culture? There are a few steps to achieving this goal.

The first step is to imagine the workforce you wish to have. In agile environments, there is a focus on efficiency. There is no unnecessary research, documentation or meetings; there are only results. Successful outcomes, however, only come from motivated, purpose-driven individuals. That means we must ascend above the employer-employee relationship and, instead, swap it with an inspiring mentorship program.

The next step is to make this dream a reality. Craft an authentic message, promote that message, then promote the supplementation of that message with continual learning, training and dialogue.


Agile environments foster meaning and cooperation. Instead of employees that mindlessly listen to the autocratic directives of their superiors, they are part of a task force who shoulder the responsibility of reaching a higher goal together. This means some critical and divergent thinking must be fostered, which can be frightening to traditionalists of all forms.

In agile environments, you will need to start asking questions that help expand how the team thinks and operates. In addition, listening, analysis and reflection skills must be a primary focus for a higher meaning to be divined.

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