Episode: 430 |
Belden Menkus:
Purpose and Strategy:



Belden Menkus

Purpose and Strategy

Show Notes

Belden Menkus was a senior engagement manager at McKinsey for six years and is the managing director at Menkus and Associates where they specialise in high-impact senior-level interventions that create new strategic value and growth opportunities using proven new approaches that engage head, heart, and hands. In today’s episode, we talk about how he approaches developing and deploying a strategy with purpose and positive outcomes. Belden Menkus can be reached through his website at menkus.com.


Key points include:

  • 05:11: Working with the Port of London Authority
  • 07:46: Working with organisations to reach clarity of purpose
  • 12:35: Pursuing the ideal
  • 17:53: The impact clarity of purpose can have on an organisation


One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:




Will Bachman 00:02

Hello and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman and I’m here today with Belden Menkus. Now, if you listen to yesterday’s show, we played an episode of Belden new podcast, the purposeful strategist. And if you didn’t listen to that episode, definitely check it out. Today, we’re gonna have a longer discussion with Beldon himself. Belden, welcome to the show.


Belden Menkus 00:32

Well, thank you. It’s great to be here.


Will Bachman 00:34

Yeah. Welcome back, I should say. So beldon yesterday, we kind of teed up this idea of purpose. And you know, one thing that, you know, we were talking offline that I thought was pretty cool was a couple equations that you shared, which is one was situation plus identity equals purpose. I’ll say that again, situation plus identity equals purpose. And the other one was clarity plus line equals action, clarity, plus alignment equals action. I think those are pretty cool equations. Tell me a little bit about how did you come up with those.


Belden Menkus 01:15

I suppose like most of what I use with my clients, it’s a bit of experience and seeing what works. And it’s a bit of stealing from others. I don’t think either of those from anybody else. But I’m, the first one really came from my experience goes back quite a ways. But when I was at McKinsey, and I was at McKinsey about six and a half years, and in retrospect, I realized that I had a very unusual type. About half of it was doing fairly, say traditional McKinsey esque strategy work of its time, you’d go out, you’d gather data you’d do unless you’d come back to the client with a big document and tell them, this is what XYZ company should do. And the other half of my time there, I was often working on my own with an entirely client, me. And we didn’t approach it that way, for understandable reasons. That wasn’t their skill set. That wasn’t the things they were interested in. But I think notice that, you know, often what they were trying to do is not necessarily get the facts of what was going on, but make sense of it. What’s what I’ve described a situation so well there and then following develop the set of tools and approaches for allowing groups of people to come together and create representations maps of the situation they’re in. And then I noticed that the energy in the whole conversation would change, when the conversation moved beyond the kind of head level of whatever facts into discussion about what kind of people are we? What do we want they pronouns stop being, they are the company, instead of being me and us. And the verbs shifted to much more once about desire, or what we would and wouldn’t do what I call identity. And then that all led to a much clearer statement of what are we trying to cut necessarily, what must we do? What what what we need to do, but what are we committed to doing, you know, sort of in response to the situation we find ourselves there. And then 30 plus alignment equals action one, somewhat came out of a similar process, in that pretty obvious, I guess, but a strategy with no action, you might as well not have it. And so what I noticed, I do a lot of that and still do a lot of work on facilitating workshops. And so I just noticed that the two things were you know, can we get fear as a shared group on what we think is true? And then can we get aligned around it? It’s not just sort of sitting out there. Yes, I can agree, but some sense of being in it together. And that thing would lead to so here’s what we do about it, usually a much longer list of what we ought to do about it than the organization add capability for so often, then it was almost working a process of saying, this is what we’re not going to do.


Will Bachman 04:26

Right. Now, I know that you certainly work with for profit entities, and work with them on this aspect of purpose and strategy. I was interested to chat with you with some of the work that you’ve done for kind of bodies that are not necessarily charities, but that are not for profit entities. And one of them was the one from your podcast episode that we played yesterday was for the port of London. Could you talk a little bit about that? Know the maybe any kind of special considerations when you’re working with that kind of entity on its strategy and defining its purpose?


Belden Menkus 05:11

Sure, a couple things. One or two bits of it, maybe a specific port of London Authority. But often, organizations like that have some founding definition of what their purpose is. So the port of London Authority was a body that was created in the early 1900s. So obviously, much later than when the court itself was founded, because it’s been around for hundreds of years. But at the time, there was a feeling that they needed some overarching bodies that could regulate and improve that report. And so it was created as a matter of legislation, a statutory body, as it’s called here, with a very clearly spelled out purpose. Now, often, for profit businesses have an equivalent, you know, articles of association or something like that. But usually, the thing that’s in there is a fairly straightforward definition one way or another, that what we’re really here to do is to make money to earn a return for our shareholders. Now, of course, there’s lots of pressures on organizations now to broaden that out. But, but there are a set of bodies that often have had to wrestle with this issue of weave, we don’t have one singular thing we may we have a number of aims and objectives. So the portal under 31 of theirs is to maintain navigational safety and support. So they are kind of like the air traffic control people report differently they have is to improve the usage and grow the volume moving through the report, well, the more volume you have, the more dangerous it is, so that they’re used to having to make these strategic level trade offs between different objectives. And I think one of the things that many for profit businesses are going to find is that they’re increasingly happy to do that, not just as Oh yeah. And then we’ve got to do a little co CSR or a little ESG stuff on the side, but actually much more fundamentally, in terms of what is this organization here for?


Will Bachman 07:31

You know, because there’s no single objective function that you can measure it by. So tell me about how you worked with organizations to, you know, to get them to that clarity of purpose.


Belden Menkus 07:46

So with TLA, I started working in music A number of years ago, I think it’s maybe four, four or five years ago, they had started to work on creating what they call the vision for the idle Thames. So that’s the river sort of from far out, it’s safe, certainly much further out at sea than then I think I’d want to go all the way up to where it stops being titled. So it’s about 95 miles end to end. And it has multiple users, it has lots of different types of traffic, they were doing some work to pull that together. But what they didn’t have necessarily was a strategy for themselves as an organization. So I came in and work with them on that. And come together. And this is often a way I tend to work with people come together or group as sort of a cross section of the organization. And then through a series of workshops began to help them map out what was going on around them. One of the exercises I often do is a bit of a corporate history. So to create a timeline on the wall, and have people use or organize people by when they join the organization, and whoever’s been there, the longest starts to tell the story. And while they’re doing it, they sort of put it on a long sheet of brown paper. And then they get to the next person who joined. And so by the time you they take over telling the story, by the time you get to the end of it, you’ve created this sense for the organization of not only Who are we now, but who have we been in the past, working with a different client. It was very interesting when I started getting to know them in interviewing some of the execs that one of the things they all said is we’re just not very innovative, you know, all the things that are happening nowadays in our part of the world in our sector. Other people are doing it did this corporate history. And you could see through it, there were a number of times that they had created new innovations that totally changed globally the nature of their organization of their sector. So they they started reimagining who they were, they were we used to be innovative. And there’s actually a lot of people who were there then are still here now, we just, we just kind of lost our Mojo somewhere as so starting to redefine who they were. And and that same says, let’s figure out, but just a we, we’ve got this kind of literal level definition of who we are, but the like, who could we be on our best day is often for me anyway, key part of this, this work of figuring out so then what’s our purpose? If if we’re an innovative organization and organization in a sector? That’s pretty traditional? What role do we want to play in that? And that then led to them deciding to take a very different, much more proactive role about a number of things?


Will Bachman 10:54

What are some of the questions that you ask? Or when you are, you know, interviewing executives to get at that sense of purpose and help to uncover that?


Belden Menkus 11:07

You know, sometimes there’s nothing terribly sophisticated. Well, sometimes it’s just literally asking people, you know, like, what do you guys think you’re here for? But But often, I won’t necessarily kind of take that and then feed it back, what I’m trying to do usually, is create a sort of a thought path, we’re a group of people that go through that along the way, they’ll discover it for themselves. And that’s usually been a custom tailored for the organization based on who they are, and where they are, and what they’ve got already in terms of artifacts, sometimes they’ve got some definition of purpose, but you kind of realize this, or pretty harmless. So it’s usually like I say, it’s a custom tailored journey to take a group of people, sometimes it’s the board, sometimes it’s a cross section of sort of one or two levels, then the organization leaders that sort of go on that experience and discover for themselves.


Will Bachman 12:12

Do you sometimes find that people will say something that, you know, on the surface, they say, is the purpose but if you probe on it a bit? organization, it’s just kind of paying lip service to that idea? Because, you know, they’re not actually, you know, pursuing that ideal?


Belden Menkus 12:35

Yeah, I mean, of course, you do. And I think, I think there’s a number of reasons for that. And most times, I don’t think it’s intentional, actually, you know, people get distracted with the questions around money, and are we making money are often very here. And now and the questions about, you know, shaping the environment that we’re in or, you know, how do we move our business to contribute to the net, you know, net zero carbon agenda, things like that usually take longer. So it’s true, I think of everybody that urgent often pushes out the important. Yeah. And I bet as I’m sure we all know, love is a huge factor. You know, organizations develop all sorts of habits, and often don’t, when they set a new direction, a new purpose, a new thing we’re trying to do, don’t then go and go. Okay, so what habits Do you have to change? So, you know, most organizations have some sort of reporting cycle, often that every financial, very laid on the things that would tell you, are we moving towards the sort of purpose that we say we’re pursuing? And yet, unless you are willing to go back and kind of try and reimagine a bunch of those, you know, those reporting cycles are just part of an ingrained muscle memory that leads the organization to pay attention to certain things and not others. I think I think if you want to work with people on on purpose, one of the key things is active power, what you’re saying if you find a mismatch is is to again, draw people to almost a question that says, so how does this bit of organizational activity behavior, whether it’s your reporting cycle, or your incentives, or to help me understand how that supports your purpose? And often then people if it if it does, sometimes they it’s like, in a way, I hadn’t understood that. But But equally, sometimes people begin to say, Oh, yeah, you’re right, that’s not actually helping us.


Will Bachman 14:39

Can you share some examples and you can either, you know, say what the company is or you keep it sanitized of the, the end of this journey of, you know, a kind of a purpose statement that a company has landed on, that resonated with them that that they were aligned around. Can you can you give me an examples to make Get to make it tangible for


Belden Menkus 15:01

  1. Yeah, and I can, if you don’t mind, I’ll use the, again, the PLN port of London Authority. And this could all be on their website. They, at the end of the work with that I sort of the first wave of work I did with them, they came up with this phrase, the custodians of the title pans. And that could sound pretty and die. And, and at one level it is. But But sitting underneath that, they then said, Okay, great, that’s our purpose, the strategy again, summed up very simply was we’re going to protect, so that was both protected from a kind of navigational standpoint, safety standpoint. But also in terms of the environmental aspect of it, we’re going to improve. And one of the key things that came out of this work was a decision that they made, that they were going to invest in buying property. And that may seem a kind of not terribly interesting decision, what a wonder 30 just cover the history of it a bit. They used to operate the docks, they don’t anymore, throughout the time period, they sold almost all of that off. And yet, they realized that there were certain spots along the river, that if they didn’t own that, over the next 20 or 30 years, the words ability to carry materials into the center of London, and then find a way to get them off, whoever would go away. And so they began a process and it’s, of course, it’s going to take them years, but of investing in buying certain bits of land near the actual water near the river. So they can begin then to promote using the, what they call inland freight, using that as an incredibly low carbon way to move heavy materials into the centre of London. So construction materials and things like that. So that that was improved. And then the third bit was promote. up so you know, in some ways, they were all just kind of, you could almost see them as slogans. But once you begin to feel down underneath it, then you got you said, Okay, so how are we going to do this, there was sort of layers of the actions they were actually going to take and the metrics they were going to look at to make it all happen.


Will Bachman 17:38

What sort of impact can it have on organization once they reached this kind of clarity of purpose, either on recruiting or retention or, or performance?


Belden Menkus 17:53

You know, I let me just just talk about two aspects of that. One is kind of how do people feel about it. And I know that I’m not going to say anything on this, that, you know, anybody who looks at anything about purpose in organizations would know, but it really does give people a sense of alignment between who they are and what they do work, which I think just at a human level makes a difference to people, there’s an awful lot of people who work for the PRA, that are their, you know, their their communities almost are oriented towards the river, it’s the maritime life is part of who they are. And being part of IT organization that’s protecting and improving and promoting that I think can make a difference at that level. But I think it also often allows organizations to be more collaborative internally, but also externally, you know, if, if you’re all about profit, I think it’s, it’s sometimes can be very difficult to collaborate, genuinely collaborate with other organizations, you can, you can do deals with them, you can pay them or they can pay you you can set up a joint venture, but collaboration so much, I think, a much looser concept. And if you have a purpose that you can reach out to other people and say, Look, this is what we’re trying to do, where can we work together on it, it changes that. But you also get that same effect often internally and with that, I’m not saying this to the port of London Authority, but often organizations can be very siloed and having some overarching purpose help, kind of through those silos can hold together people I one of the things I do is I run a series of roundtables more recently, they’ve been virtual. The last one I did a guest was saying that in her organization, they’ve been a lot clearer about their purpose. So it’s it’s a it needs to be there. Help people who need to do marketing production. So that whether that’s filming things or putting stuff on print or whatever, and they were saying, look, our job is to help our clients make that entire process less carbon intensive, which I thought was very interesting, because I would never imagine that, that net zero would have been a big part of that. She said, No, that’s what we’re doing. First of all, it distinguishes us from others in our space, because a lot of people aren’t talking about that. And also, it turns our organization from being very vertical to being horizontal. Because often to make a carbon savings work, you know, it’s, it’s, we’re trading off air miles versus sending a production crew on site somewhere around the world. So where you book the savings and where you make the decisions aren’t the same place. So you have to look at realization to make it work. And I think that sense of vertical to horizontal, driven by higher purpose, I think is a big, big factor in a lot of organizations. Well, did I answer your question? Or did I just rambling?


Will Bachman 21:12

No, no, that was great. What suggestions would you have if for consultants listening to this episode, who are interested in doing more of this type of work with their clients of helping their clients? Find not just a strategy, but really a purpose to help crystallize that strategy?


Belden Menkus 21:31

Yeah. I think there’s two places I might suggest people work. And the first is to work within ask themselves, why am I trying to do this? Am I doing this because I just I know, it’s a it’s a it’s a wave, it’s a topic, I can surf the wave, I can, you know, I, it’s something that I talk to people, they’ll they’ll listen, or my doing this because I, I really, genuinely believe that organizations that embrace some sense of a higher or a broader purpose, are better. And I want to help my clients get better. So this is this is part of what I’m going to do. I think I think that’s the first thing. The second is I’ve just, I’ve just mentioned an organization that I didn’t come across until I started doing my own podcast with it, which is here in the UK, but much of their material is available online. It’s called a blueprint for better business. I one of the interviews I’ve done is with their chief executive, Charles Wilkie. And they have a lot of material that talk about how they’re a charity. They’re a very small charity, about how they work with organizations. There’s a lot of tools that are available there. If somebody’s serious about this, and they want to get in touch with me and I’d be happy to spend, you know, a bit of time with with anybody unless I get so overwhelmed and attended to some kind of online seminar. But I’m happy to have a chat to anybody who wants to do seriously explore, you know, how can they take this forward?


Will Bachman 23:09

Fantastic. Well, golden for people that do want to follow up with you or learn more about your work, where would you point them online?


Belden Menkus 23:18

It’s menkus.com www.menkus.com.


Will Bachman 23:26

Okay, we’ll include that link in the show notes here. So, Belden Minkus, thank you so much for joining today and listeners do check out Belden, his podcast, the purposeful strategist building. Thanks for joining.


Belden Menkus 23:40

Well, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

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