Establishing and operating from an anchor of a “living purpose” creates a distinct competitive advantage for companies and a mechanism to engage your stakeholders. For example, customers who are aligned with a company’s brand values deliver twice the share of wallet (47%) as customers who aren’t aligned with that same brand (23%) .
Articulating an inspiring, overarching purpose statement is an important first step in helping your purpose take hold. While it’s not enough on its own, it can be the connective tissue or jumping off point to clarify and integrate your organization’s values, cultural norms, and long-term strategy.
A stated purpose is a means to demonstrate your commitment to long-term value as well as short-term results. It ignites the passion in your people and engages your top talent, so they stay, grow, and thrive with you. And it can lead to innovations that will help you stay competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace.
Some companies choose to encompass purpose in their mission statements, others in their vision statements. What’s important is that you get at “the essence” of who you are and why you do what you do. BCG’s BrightHouse says: Mission is your what. Vision is your where. Purpose is your why.
Based on my work with CEOs and senior teams, here are five steps to help organizations through the process, including questions to reflect on along the way.
1) Start External
You won’t get there by working with your senior team alone. Capture the power of your company’s narrative as experienced through the eyes of your stakeholders. Customers, employees, and suppliers will all offer important insights on the distinct value you bring.
List the people and the groups that matter to you and to your business. Determine who matters most to you and then find out what matters most to them.
- What do our customers value about our organization?
- How would our employees describe working at our company?
- How would our partners describe our company to others?
2) Look Inside Yourself
To be a steward for your company you first must become conscious of your own purpose. This phase of the process is introspective. It’s about finding the connections between your head and heart that will then connect to the purpose of the business. Examine what is most important to you and your senior team. Discuss each of your own personal narratives and the legacy you hope you’re building. Reflect on how you want to shape your future path.
An inspirational company purpose is always linked to a leader’s overall ambition of who they want to be as a person and how they hope to be remembered in the future.
- What am I passionate about that I want to leave as my legacy as a leader?
- Why am I in this business, and what am I trying to build?
- What people do I deeply admire and why? How would I describe their purpose?
3) Find Your Noble Cause
This is the stage where you link external and internal to pinpoint your company’s single, overarching purpose. A purpose answers the “why” question and links vision, mission, strategy, values, and culture. It’s the organization’s single underlying objective that unifies all stakeholders and embodies its ultimate role in the world.
Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard said way back in 1960, “I want to discuss why a company exists in the first place. In other words, why are we here? I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being.”
Sample Statements of Purpose:
- What do we want to be known for?
- What is it that we can do for the world that other companies can’t?
- If we are successful, who will benefit and how?
Ikea: To create a better everyday life for the many people.
Ingram Micro: Realizing the power of technology.
Masonite: We help people walk through walls.
SAP: To help the world run better and improve people’s lives.
Sephora: We inspire fearlessness.
Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup
and one neighborhood at a time.
Visa: We strive to be the best way to pay and be paid, for everyone, Everywhere.
4) Write It
You have a wealth of thinking behind your purpose. Now turn it into a statement that will be the broader framework for the actions you will take. It’s how your purpose will be expressed. My recommendation is that you put down every word or phrase you can think of. Then begin to boil these words and phrases down to what fits best, ultimately picking a single phrase that strikes at the heart of who you are.
Fewer, bolder words are often better and more memorable. Make the statement aspirational. You want to engage people’s emotions and unlock their imaginations.
- Is the statement short and easily repeatable?
- Could any other company say this?
- Will it inspire and engage your stakeholders?
5) Test and Experiment
Finally, you’ll need to make sure the statement is clear and compelling to people across your entire value chain. Circle back to show your stakeholders what you have developed to see how it resonates. Be willing to fine tune based on what you learn. And then you can begin the work of linking everything you do back to this purpose statement and helping it take hold.
Stating and communicating your purpose is an important step forward. It will help your employees find more meaning and energy around their work. It gives you a tool to engage your customers and build more trust with them. And you will drive financial value through new partnerships, products, and services you uncover along the way, building and strengthening your organization to do even more.
- Are people rallying around it and talking about it?
- Does it make people proud to be a part of your company?
- Can employees clearly connect their work to this statement?
Image credit: Chris McClanahan/Flickr