Beliefs & Values Blog Conscious Leadership

Power of Purpose

Written by Charlie Efford

Photo from US Army competition

Many organisations devote much time and energy towards defining their mission, vision and values. These statements aim to give a clear sense of direction and purpose. Often they are proudly displayed around their premises. I can almost hear the Executive Team saying, “Job done! We know where we are going and how we are going to get there” What you don’t often hear is “All we need to do now is convince people to come with us”.

What you don’t often hear is “All we need to do now is convince people to come with us”.

A typical mission statement looks like:

[Company name]’s mission is to be the leading supplier of [product or service] worldwide. We will achieve this-through superior innovation, quality and customer service.

Sometimes words about being profitable and maximising shareholder return are included.

How are you feeling right now? Inspired? Committed? No, me neither. These words feel more like an ‘ego statement’ than a mission statement. To put it another way, these mission statements could be written as: ‘We want to become a big profitable company so that we can make lots of money’.

I want to know that I am contributing to a venture that touches people’s lives

This may appeal to you but it doesn’t to me. I have nothing against making money but I want to be part of an organisation that makes a positive difference in the world. I want to know that I am contributing to a venture that touches people’s lives and adds value to the human race. I want to know that making a difference is the real purpose of the organisation (and that they happen to grow and make profits as a result – not the other way around).

Trying to predict the future is a perilous business these days

What about vision statements? Conceptually, having a vision of where you would like to get to makes sense. In practice I have a couple of caveats. First, ask yourself where the vision really comes from. If it has a hotline to your ego then it probably isn’t going to work. If it comes from your connectedness to others then it probably will. My second point is that the world changes. Trying to predict the future is a perilous business these days. What looks good now might be hopelessly redundant in 5 years. It might be better to identify some principles that can adapt to circumstances rather than define a commanding vision.

I think we should scrap mission and vision statements (which sound like military objectives anyway), and have powerful ‘Purpose Statements’ instead.

A Purpose Statement defines what impact the organisation wants to have on the world

A Purpose Statement defines what impact the organisation wants to have on the world and what contribution they want to make to the human race. It is not time bound and leaves plenty of room for people to deliver against it in their own way. Many organisations do this already. Some examples are:

  • Oxfam: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice.
  • The Humane Society: Celebrating Animals, Confronting Cruelty
  • Disney We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment
  • Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit for people of all ages, everywhere, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

The power of purpose statements is the way they connect with you at a heart level as a human being not at a head level as a customer or an employee. Most people enjoy helping those around them and doing something worthwhile. If you could work for an organisation that genuinely sets out to achieve both then work could become much more meaningful. If work is meaningful then you’ll almost certainly bring more energy and purpose to what you are doing.

the organisation has to really believe in it.

The caveat to having a great sounding purpose statement is that the organisation has to really believe in it. It’s no good paying for some slick focus group oriented marketing if you don’t mean what you say. People are very good at sniffing out those who say one thing and mean another.

Purpose statements are best when they emerge from the organisation

Purpose statements are best when they emerge from the organisation. CEO’s that operate as ‘stewards’ not ‘owners’ listen to their organisations and allow them to develop where they need to go (which may be a very different place to where most CEO’s think their organisations should go).

With a clear sense of purpose – everything else follows. Defining mission and vision becomes redundant. If your purpose connects at a heart level, people will work towards success without needing to know more.

Let me finish by looking at NHS England’s mission statements to illustrate what I mean.

Here is the official version

NHS

Here is my Purpose Statement

“We provide compassionate care for people when they need help”

which one do you like best?

About the author

Charlie Efford

My name is Charlie Efford and I have been a leader all my life. I am at my best when I hold space for others to grow and develop. I do this because I enjoy it. I listen deeply, I care and I am not afraid to use my intuition. I often see things that others miss and I like to have fun.

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