Big Fish, Little Pond - Part 3 - Purpose is your final espresso shot

Aligning People, Purpose, and Work

Rachel Berdan, our COO, delivering our Storytelling “In-a-Day” workshop in Goderich, Ontario.

Rachel Berdan, our COO, delivering our Storytelling “In-a-Day” workshop in Goderich, Ontario.

There’s a small advantage to losing around 65-70% of your revenue almost overnight (as explored in Part 1): the important things become crystal clear. Your survival is predicated on your ability to maximize the value you provide while also consistently reducing your headcount, which is particularly challenging in a services businesses that relies heavily on human capacity to generate revenue. Generating revenue that’s not connected to your core purpose is more glaringly both a blessing and a curse; while it might be easy to make, it can also pull focus that is critical to achieve targets and ultimately end up costing you.

I talk to a lot of other businesses at various levels of maturity, from startup to veterans, and I always ask them what problem they’re trying to solve. Every business has challenging moments, and when those challenges come the business can easily lose steam. When all other energy sources (money, human or otherwise) are expended, the clarity about the problem you’re solving (and the will to solve it) is like a shot of espresso to keep you going.

We know that  too many people find lack of fulfillment in work, and the impact can be costly. Sometimes people choose to leave and the cost is turnover. When unfulfilled people choose to stay, the dissatisfaction can ripple out to colleagues and culture… or worse, to customers and their experience.  rTraction exists to align people, purpose and work so that organizations can realize their full potential.

Where We’re Going

Our vision is that by 2030 the majority of Canadian corporations have sustainability at the core of their operations. We know that the reason we are still here is because we brought this lens to the way that we operate. It is in how we treat our people, how we treat our clients, how we treat our community and other stakeholders. It is in how we make decisions about the right path forward to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for all of the stakeholders in our midst. Both in the example of our regeneration and the way that we work with our clients, I think that we can have a part in organizations becoming more purpose-driven.

We cannot achieve this vision alone, but we can understand our part in it helping the vision evolve and know we have strong partners working on similar goals, excellent clients who become equally critical parts of the ecosystem we are building, and a team of superheroes to help guide the way.

The Path Forward

Over the last year, we’ve been moving forward as much as we’ve been looking back. We have been building a new business model while still operating in the old one. We knew that our new business model had to be built around what we’re passionate about and what we’re good at, and that too drastic a shift would cause some brand confusion.

We have evolved from the company that Londoners (and our clients across North America) have known for its work in tech to embracing why exactly it was that we often — but not always — used tech. The purpose was not in the tech itself, but in the capacity of tech to align people, purpose, and work to achieve their full potential.    

We started looking at the way we solve problems for clients. Over 20 years of working with 500+ clients in over 1,500 projects, you can develop a keen sense of what types of problems you’re going to encounter and tactics to solve those problems. On reflection, there are two recurring problems that really stand out:

  1. The majority of projects that go off track suffer from stakeholder mis-alignment. The tension is often attributed to a disconnect between vendor and client; however when the biggest issues arise it is often the case that key internal client stakeholders are not on the same page. What it looks like is conflicting advice, feedback, and direction that increase complexity that an external team will struggle to navigate.

  2. The world moves too quickly for traditional project management approaches. Technology change, social change, environmental change and government policy are moving at exponentially faster rates. A 3-6 month engagement to solve a problem is delivered 3-6 months too late to guarantee effectiveness.

Once we identified both our purpose and these challenges, we we started working differently. We facilitated working sessions or full day workshops with our clients’ internal teams. We have found that smaller, more purposeful working sessions can move initiatives far faster and more effectively than other project management methodologies we have employed. We have packaged that approach into our In-A-Day series.

We call an In-A-Day the most productive day a team can have on a project. We get everyone on the same page about where they think they’re going and where their primary obstacles are, we facilitate through the tension that leads to change, and we care about the outcome enough to hold everyone accountable to achieving it (on our team and yours). Coming out of the day, we have a clearer direction of where we’re going (we call it a Compass), and how to navigate the inevitable roadblocks to get there. Once the core issues and their solutions are defined the path to a solution becomes faster.

This new way of working is how we are aligning the strengths of our own people, the purpose of our organization, and the value of the work that we do to collectively row our boat toward the future we envision. We believe this way of working can also help you. And we are eager to share.


Upon reflection, this series “Big Fish, Little Pond” could theoretically go on forever. After all, “the only constant is change” (Heraclitus ~500 BC)

The first part addressed the impact of landing a large client, the second part focused on how to navigate, and the third closes off with how we focused on the core of what we’re good at by articulating our purpose and paying attention to where it shows up.

This series started off as a conversation between Greg Hemmings and I; I hope you have learned something you can apply to your current or future challenges. While Part 3 rounds out the trilogy of this story, we hope to share lots of future stories with you as we continue to evolve. Our newsletter (signup below in the footer) is the best way to follow this journey.

A special thanks also goes out to Ted Doholis and Paul Lambert at Doholis-Lambert - without their help to hold us to finding our purpose we may not have ever arrived.

Last, but not least, while the blog post is written frequently from my voice as our CEO, the series was a collaboration between David and Rachel Berdan. I’m grateful to have her gift of clarity in reviewing our writing.

In the meantime, if you got something of value from this series and would like to connect, or if you work with an organization that could use a shift in perspective and momentum, contact us.

David Billson