The book Start with Why by Simon Sinek is a convincing read for anyone wondering about the importance and power of a clear purpose and mission for an organization. One quote that summarizes Sinek’s findings is, “all organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.” This was a quote that I had in mind when we had a chance to sit down with Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, CEO and President of St. Joseph’s Health Care. I’ve met many people who worked at St. Joseph’s and one thing that is consistent is the strong sense of mission that each employee feels when they show up to work each day. It is remarkable that an organization as large as St. Joseph’s and with as diverse a workforce can still animate mission and purpose for everyone.

We got a chance to speak with Dr. Kernaghan and ask her about the role of the Board in keeping mission at the forefront of everything they do. She offered lots of great examples for how the organization does that and how the Board regularly talks about mission (you can check out the podcast for more of that). One of the tips that stuck with me was to include a question for reflection on the agenda for the end of each meeting – how did our meeting, our discussion, and our decisions serve our stakeholders and further our mission?

Once mission is firmly entrenched in Board discussions, it trickles down through the rest of the organization. Dr. Kernaghan described it as a cascade that starts at the top and works its way through senior management and then throughout the rest of the stakeholders. If mission, vision, and purpose are not firmly planted then you cannot expect to harvest any fruit from your work. Think of it like this tree:

Vision, mission, purpose is the root of what you are trying to do. It needs to inform the Board and must shape the conversations and decisions that the Board makes so that the organization can stay on task and meet its mandate. There needs to be alignment starting at the roots all the way through to the “fruit” – the outcome of your work. Feeding and nurturing the roots is the first step to making sure your organization has the potential to be healthy, productive, and purposeful. It is an awesome responsibility and we are grateful for leaders like Dr. Kernaghan who are showing us the way to keep governance grounded in what is most important.

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