Create a Purpose Statement, Not a Mission Statement

Monte Wyatt & Brad Sugars, Sep 26, 2019

Every organization has a reason for being. A lot of companies have sincere and serious mission statements that describe their reasons for being, but a lot of these mission statements are feel-good platitudes designed to get buy-in from as many people as possible.

For example, who would object to the following mission statements?

"To build the Web’s most convenient, secure, cost-effective payment solution." — PayPal

"Delight our customers, employees, and shareholders by relentlessly delivering the platform and technology advancements that become essential to the way we work and live." — Intel

"To deliver information on the people, ideas, and technologies changing the world to our community of affluent business decision makers." — Forbes

"To be a company that inspires and fulfils your curiosity." — Sony

"To be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnership, and performance." — Chevron

These are all uplifting sentiments, but they could also describe the mission of any number of good companies. These mission statements don't work for us, because they don't define the company's unique reason for being. They don't offer anything that shows how the company will achieve its goals. What do these lofty statements mean for customers? For stakeholders? For anyone? What do they even say, anyhow? For a lot of reasons, we think esoteric, future-oriented mission statements are a fad that’s outlived its purpose.

This is not to say we don’t believe in mission. The Discipline of Mission is all about fostering an emotional connection between the company and people: customers, employees, stakeholders, community members. To do this, we believe it’s more appropriate to have a purpose statement that can answer the question anyone would ask of a company: Why do you do what you do in the here and now?

We believe that an effective purpose statement will not only describe what your company's reason for being is, it will be as inspirational as a lofty mission statement, but more actionable.

A purpose statement tells people what ignites your passion and inspires you to be the best you can be. It draws on skills and experience while stimulating personal growth and future opportunity.

Here are examples of good purpose statements:

“The Climate Corporation aims to help all the world’s farmers sustainably increase productivity of their farming operations.”— The Climate Corporation, a digital agriculture company that examines weather, soil and field data to help farmers determine potential yield-limiting factors in their fields.

"Delivering happiness to customers, employees, and vendors.” – Zappos, the online retailer known for its high-quality customer service.

"Fierce advocates for justice." New York's John Jay College for Criminal Justice.

And then there's a motivation statement from Bosch, the maker of high-quality appliances. "Invented for life: we want our products to spark enthusiasm, improve quality of life, and help conserve natural resources."

Each of these statements says something actionable, as well as inspirational.

A clear purpose statement includes these:

  • An explanation for the company's reason for existing
  • An identity for employees to latch onto
  • An inspiration for inventiveness and advancement in the organization.

The purpose statement should be a driving force in decision-making, reflecting the company's core values.

To recap, the Discipline of Mission fosters an emotional connection inside and outside the organization. A purpose statement answers the question anyone would ask of a company: Why do you do what you do in the here and now?

We'd love to hear from you. Can you identify your company's purpose statement? Thank you for sharing.