Needs – of individuals, organizations, communities, the environment, you name it – are the Inputs. Purpose, Strategy, People and Processes are the elements of Throughput that interact (through the characteristic of systems called Feedback) and create the output known as Results: the satisfaction of customers’ and other stakeholders’ needs.

If this model appears painfully simplistic, be aware that there is a wealth of resources embedded in each component. Pathway tools (which will be discussed in another document) give you a place to start and milestones with which to measure progress. The model gives you a simple way to think about your organization as a system. It integrates timeless principles of effectiveness which are common to all organizations with specific practices which are unique to your business or profession. It places as much weight on honesty, trust and vision (Purpose and People) as it does on execution excellence (Strategy and Processes). It focuses on applying the disciplines of world market leaders to small and medium-sized professional practices and knowledgeintensive businesses. It is designed to be accessible and useful for you since you never have the luxury of seeing inadequate results and saying, “Someone else has a problem.” Pathway is for people where the buck stops. Consider each component.


Customer satisfaction, as well as other results that are important to stakeholders, come through the interaction of all four “throughput” components: purpose, strategy, processes and people. How well the parts work together is as important as how excellent any single part is.
Purpose answers the question why. It is frequently called mission or vision. Organizational purpose statements identify what set of stakeholder needs will be satisfied. Purpose statements define what system the organization chooses to lead; a purpose statement answers the question, “Who speaks for the needs of the whole system?” Purpose articulates ideals and longing, and provides something bigger-than-self for people to commit to.
Strategy clarifies what the organization will actually do. If purpose, the preceding component, is about capturing hearts and minds, strategy is about capturing market share. Strategy specifies the core competence of the business, identifying the set of skills in which the business seeks to be “best in world.” Strategy defines which market segments the organization will pursue, based on shared needs of sets of customers and the abilities of the business. It identifies what competitors try to satisfy the same needs, and how well they do it. Products and services, with specific, measurable performance objectives and a well-integrated incentive system link strategy with the other components of Pathway.
People are, of course, the who of the organization. People are much more than a mere collection of competencies. They also embody character and are the source of creativity, innovation, adaptation, trust, caring – all the essential elements that produce partnership and commitment in any successful business. When leaders effectively align purpose, strategy and processes, people have a legitimate shot at partnering in a way that satisfies all stakeholders. When people understand purpose and strategy, they can use the processes of the organization to satisfy customer and other stakeholder needs.
Processes say how the organization will achieve its objectives. Every business has core and support processes. Core processes create the primary products and services that meet customer needs. Support processes make it possible for the core processes to continue functioning and also verify that all other stakeholder needs are satisfied. If you think of an automobile as a system whose purpose is to move people from one place to another, its core processes would be the engine, power train, axles, wheels and the steering wheel. Oil in the crank case would be an example of one of the support processes. No one starts up a car for the privilege of circulating oil, but just try running one without oil. Core processes are not more important than support processes, just different.
Professionals frequently underestimate the significance of purpose, strategy and processes other than the ones learned in professional school. Doctors and dentists assume that mastery of treatment procedures is sufficient to have a successful practice. Software designers assume that conquering the intricacies of code alone will produce successful products and businesses. This is not terribly surprising, since it typically takes six to ten years of college or practical experience to become competent and credentialed in key professional processes. Malcolm Gladwell asserts in Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a discipline. But it is a sobering fact that the procedures and technologies whose mastery qualifies us as professionals constitute one part of the core processes of our practices or business. Other essential processes that we don’t necessarily learn when we become technologically competent include selling, hiring, training, earning trust and commitment from people and managing money.


Stakeholders define results as the degree to which their legitimate needs are satisfied. Results derive from the interaction of purpose, strategy, people and processes. It’s typical for leaders who seek to improve results to emphasize either the “east-west” Pathway axis of strategy and process, or the “north-south” Pathway axis of purpose and people. Those who are more comfortable with rational analytical thought tend to focus on strategy and process; those who feel that results come primarily from human motivation and commitment lean towards purpose and people. We assert that each component is indispensable and carries approximately equal weight in producing desired results.