Your purpose is your primary reason for being. It is the difference you make, the value you add, the change you create. Purpose and mission are terms used interchangeably; but more recently, purpose has become popular because it connotes a reason for being beyond profit. Your purpose is inclusive of all stakeholders including shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, community, and environment.
Purpose statements, when stated simply and uniquely, are powerful tools that build energy, focus and motivation for your brand from customers and employees alike. Good purpose statements help you pick a lane, and stick to it.
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins calls this your Hedgehog Concept; the one thing your company has the potential to be not just good at doing, but the best at doing. Gino Wickman calls this your Core Purpose – the thing you focus on to the sacrifice of all others. It’s about avoiding being a jack of all trades, and master of none.
Good purpose statements are:
Short and sharp – preferably no more than 10 words. They need to be statements that your team can remember and repeat; like an organisational mantra. Descriptive statements have a place as the subtext to your purpose statement. But if you can’t summarise your purpose in a single repeatable statement, you’re not being succinct enough. A basic rule: if you can’t remember it, you haven’t nailed it!
Specific and clear – They should speak directly to your customers and clearly reflect your brand. Many mission statements are generalisations. They could sit on any company charter. Stacy Barr, author of “Prove It” talks about the importance of avoiding cliched or pedestrian mission statements. “When our vision, our purpose, our direction are specific and clear, they are compelling” (P.5).
Aspirational and enduring – they are always aspirational in nature giving your company something to reach for that is a permanent and enduring. Strategic goals and priorities change as companies grow and evolve; but your purpose, your reason for being, never changes.
Here are some great examples of purpose statements that meet the brief:
By contrast, here are examples of that are aspirational and specific, yet not short and sharp (and therefore difficult to remember or repeat):
And examples that are short and sharp, aspirational and enduring, yet not specific and clear enough (they could appear on any company website):
All these purpose statements are perfectly good statements. My goal here is not to criticise these companies – but make an example of the kind of statement that will take root in people’s minds and direct both thinking and decision making on a daily basis.
If you’re going to build a purpose statement, build one that makes you stand out from the crowd and memorable enough to be talked about.