What is a Purpose Statement?

The way we use the word “purpose” is different from a common definition. The widespread definition is parallel to “mission” (why we exist as an organization). Here, we are using the words “purpose” and “pride” synonymously.

Our definition of purpose is that it serves to imbue the group’s work with meaning and impact. A well-crafted purpose statement answers the question, “What will make us proud?” and represents the best values of the group.

Purpose statements can be used to initiate, evaluate, and refine business strategies and activities. They are templates for strategic direction, used to:

  • Create organizational alignment and momentum around direction
  • Measure progress
  • Identify priorities and sort out issues
  • Resolve conflicts in a way that honors paradox and complexity

Purpose, Mission, Vision, and Values

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Purpose is different from vision. Vision defines our ideal future state by what we want to accomplish. Today, many leaders have abandoned vision statements.

Vision statements have many shortfalls. Sometimes generic vision statements are perceived as unattainable within the context of the organization’s actual policies and practices. They are used more for marketing slogans on websites, banners or mugs.

Others are too vague. “We will be the best company in the world,” is meaningless to their audience.

Other vision statements are too specific. They are written as business objectives, with metrics and percentage increases. “We will create five new products within the next three years which capture a 30% market share,” is one example. These are neither inspirational nor galvanizing. They don’t lead to commitment and energy beyond the limited function of goals.

Sample Purpose Statements

Supply Chain Management Team Purpose

We’ll feel proud when we are being authentic with each other, fun-loving, mutually trusting, creative and respectful, which will enable us to rapidly provide valuable medicines that enhance quality of life for patients and their families.

Financial Back Office Firm

Perform as a dynamic, consultative and collaborative team focused on consistently delivering business solutions that provide a positive impact in a way that thrills our customers, develops the individual, and supports our corporate financial objectives, so that we become essential to our business partners.

Decision Analysis Leadership Team

Our purpose is to build and sustain a creative, challenging learning environment so that every person in the department is trusted and sought by experienced, smart leaders to lead/facilitate/influence difficult, meaningful decisions, and is appreciated/acknowledged for his/her contribution in order to achieve business results.

Decision Analysis Department

We will feel proud when our department is sought to deliver innovative, actionable solutions which enhance Acme’s prospects of fully realizing its mission. We are an exemplar of a spirited high-performing team where leadership, teamwork and accomplishment are recognized, creativity is valued, development is encouraged, and pride is manifest. Retail Company We will feel proud when we improve the health of our customer.

Good purpose statements can be used for making complex decisions

As an example, a Biotech company’s mission statement was, “To create innovative products that will save human lives.” This sounds like an inspiring, even great mission. But when push came to shove, the company found it could not really use this mission statement to make strategic—or even tactical—decisions.

In one example, the company had $600 million to invest. They were trying to decide which products line to invest in:

  • Product A: Almost ready for FDA approval, saves lives, but may not return a profit.
  • Products B & C: Earlier in development, could save lives, and potential to make a lot of money if approved by the FDA.

The mission statement made it a tough call. The team working on Product A felt they couldn’t give up because of the company’s mission.

They solved the conflict by asking a new question: what would make them proud? This led them to change their mission into a purpose statement: “To create innovative products that will save human lives and enable our company to generate returns that will allow us to significantly invest in research and innovative product development.

Activity | Large Group Brainstorm

Pro Tips:
• 5 minute activity
• Brainstorming ideas only
• Capture ideas on a shared document

Facilitation Question:

  1. Beyond our smaller team silos, what is the work that only we can do as a larger team to achieve bigger results? What will make us proud?