Most companies have a mission, a vision and a set of values. Each of those messaging components are designed to solve a different strategic need. Your mission statement defines how your company delivers your product or service. Your vision outlines your future state — where you see your company in 10-20 years. And values help orient your company’s behavioral compass.
A purpose statement is something entirely different. It defines “why” you are in business, your reason for being. It should be inspirational and reveal your company’s journey — not a pitch about a specific product or service.
One of my favorite quotes about purpose is from Sherry Hakimi, a proponent of purpose-driven leadership. She said, “An organization without purpose manages people and resources, while an organization with purpose mobilizes people and resources.”
Organizations often confuse one or more key aspects of their culture or business objectives as their purpose statement. The result is an ambiguous or overly ambitious paragraph that tries to be all things to all people.
We see a vision statement passing as a purpose, or values getting conflated with strategic principles. Words and phrases are added merely to secure stakeholders’ approval. That’s a recipe for confusion.
Though a seemingly minor misstep, the consequences can be far-reaching. Each of these core attributes should focus employees’ efforts and drive operational imperatives, and when they’re poorly calibrated they can generate confusion, inefficiency and misalignment between departments.
The team involved in developing the purpose statement should have a broad, empathetic understanding of a company’s internal and
Designing a smart process for development is as key as the final product itself.
It helps to remind what a purpose statement is not intended to achieve before seriously weighing suitable candidates. A purpose isn’t any of the following:
A purpose statement should define the impact of company’s offering over the long term — what it provides its customers and larger community — or why a company opens its doors. It should satisfy the following criteria:
A few high-profile examples include Ernst Young: “Building a better working world;” Disney: “Promote and spread happiness;” and Unilever: “Making sustainable living commonplace.” As these cases illustrate, an organization’s purpose adopts the mindset of its customers to gauge their needs and ambitions, then expresses a commitment to empowering those goals.
As mentioned, some organizations struggle to concisely articulate how they provide value to their customers. An external party can often better assess a company’s unique contribution and distill that value into an action-oriented purpose statement. If your organization is wrestling with how to articulate their core offerings, teaming up with a strategic brand consultancy can help orient your team around a unifying vision while delivering your customers a powerful reason to connect.
Andrew Skola is Senior Vice President of Strategy at AvreaFoster
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