Holacracy Community of Practice Archive, 2015-2019 Community Holacracy Web Site

Writing a purpose and style

We had a question about how to write a purpose.  I have looked at a few examples on the H1 Glassfrog.  Some seem like aspirational outcomes. By that I mean something to be worked towards but that likely can always be improved/refined in an ongoing way. They likely won’t be “accomplished” or completed.  Other read like directions (there is a verb in the sentence that the role has to carry out).  

For example the "Visual Storyteller" role's purpose is: Create and sustain a buzz about Holacracy through powerful visual stories.

To me this reads like a directive statement

On the other hand the "coach sourcer" role's purpose is: A high-quality learning environment for participants, primarily, and for coaches, secondarily

To me this reads like an aspirational outcome.  

Brian's examples in the book (p.33) are both aspirational outcomes. "to create cleaner cities" (for a garbage company) and  "exquisite organization (for H1-now changed to "Evolve humanity’s relationship to power")

There maybe other ways purposes are written that I have not seen.  Those are just two I noticed.  Perhaps there are grammatical nuances at play or it's just the style of thinking of the person who proposed the role?

I would appreciate any thoughts on how other teams think about how to capture a role's purpose. Maybe there is a guide somewhere?   



6 Replies
Dennis Wittrock

Hi Sam, 

yes, these are the two major ways of capturing that I am aware of as well. 

Either you add a verb to the statement (what you call "directive statement") or you try to leave the verb out - then it usually sounds more aspirational. Both works, although I personally prefer the latter, if possible. 

The third option is to leave the purpose unspecified and only flesh out accountabilities instead. That's the quick and dirty version - or rather 'minimally sufficient' version. 

Having an (aspirational) purpose is useful though because it subsumes all kinds of (potential) accountabilities on a more abstract level that leaves considerable wiggle room for creative interpretation of the role filler. That's where novelty can enter the picture. Leaving out the purpose might feel limiting since the only data point left are the more concrete accountabilities (which still have some room for interpretation of course, but less so).

Sometimes purposes sound like accountabilities - especially in circles new to Holacracy. In that case, one can pull back and ask "what does this 'purpose' serve? Why is it there? What's behind it?" Repeat these questions with the new answers as often as needed until you hit 'purpose rock bottom', i.e. you found a statement that cannot be further abstracted, with no deeper layer 'under' it. 

hope this was useful. Let me know what you think. 



Sam Burnett

Thanks [@mention:457856795977603624]

I like how you framed the aspirational purpose as leaving room for novelty or innovation.  I think an aspirational purpose is the best becuase it is a role we thing should exist in an ongoing fashion.  IF they ever did meet their purposes' directive, the role would end.  That said, if it is a very specific role I could see where a very directive purpose is helpful.  As you say though, then it sounds like an accountability and not a purpose.


Keith Jarvis

Great topic - we've still got a mish-mash between the two 'styles' described here, with growing emphasis on non-action / non-'directive' (to use your term) purpose statements.

The way we've been framing this internally is along the lines of a Mission Statement, which has Vision + Action = Mission, as something we often work on in our organization's personal growth workshops and peer support groups.

Vision = the way I wish the world would be
Action = the things I will do to work towards that

Holacratically, then the adaptation is:

Purpose = the way the org / circle would be if this Role was fully expressed
Accountabilities = the recurring actions the Role takes in pursuit of that end state

We have found the differentiation to be very helpful in providing role clarity and dilineating a 'reason for being' from 'what I do'.

Jeff Kreh

We onboard our incarcerated students like this to help them leave behind unhealthy submissive habits and move toward healthy self-leadership:

The mission is what's going on daily ... next actions stated properly should do this (stated as accomplished for a simple True/False response).

Vision is how it ought to be for a while ... accountabilities that adjust as needed can express this perfectly.

Purpose? That's the long-range picture that reminds you why its worth all the BS that we entrepreneurs have to put up with.

We ask our students to think one step further out: destiny. Why do you exist?

Why will it really matter whether you accomplish your purpose? Knowing that makes it easier to adjust your Vision when necessary. Knowing that makes it easier to knock down your extractions like a beast. And knowing all of this, and putting it into practice consistently, makes it easy to breeze through a day not even realizing that you're outperforming yourself day after day.


What I remember from training was that a purpose should answer two questions:

  • Why does this Role exist? (which [@mention:477139080146610445] hit on above).
  • What does wild success look like for this Role?

That has helped us quite a bit.  We often go for Purposes that state an unreachable but ideal future state.

Sam Burnett

[@mention:549059653907130620] [@mention:477139080146610445] [@mention:454478741268114544]

thanks all for your input.  it sounds like we are all mainly aligned around a purpose being aspirational and the accountabilities working directly towards that.  One comment is that the use of "destiny" like Jeff used it is one way of taking what could be seen as very functional and purpose driven organizational tool (the role construction) and potentially cross a boundary into a larger personal aspirational goal.  It is interesting that we craft roles that serve the organization but we need to couch them in ways that enthuse and energize the partner filling them.  I think that by creating space for novelty, self-expression, and "destiny" we allow space for people to own roles and humanize/personalize them in unique ways.  By filling roles with the right people--this leads to a very interesting vehicle for organizational growth, change, and dynamism (which is maybe the whole point if this style of workplace organization).