The Value of a Purpose Statement

Organizations spend inordinate amounts of time on mission statements that gather dust as opposed to a purpose statement that should be posted on the front door.

Organizations spend inordinate amounts of time on mission statements that gather dust as opposed to a purpose statement that should be posted on the front door.

Lots of time is spent on mission, vision and value statements. Too little time is spent on a statement of purpose.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Australian management consultant Graham Kenny says mission, vision and value statements have merit in influencing how an "organization should view and conduct itself." The purpose statement is outward-focused and offers the reason why consumers or clients should care.

He gives three examples of effective purpose statements:

  • "To make the property process simple, efficient and stress free for people buying and selling a property" — a realty group.
  • "Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive" — Kellogg cereal.
  • "To help people manage risk and recover from the hardship of unexpected loss" — an insurance company.

Arguably, these three purpose statements could serve as mission, vision or value statements. Arguably, they should be the norm for such statements.

Too often, mission and vision statements include grandiose language and lofty ambitions. They reflect organizational aspiration, not consumer expectation. They don't answer the age-old consumer question, "Why should I care?"

Purpose statements, if written well, says Kenny, will speak directly to consumers and clients. They answer the "why should I care?" question. Kenny suggests that speaking directly to consumers through a purpose statement can be a product or service differentiator.

It's not a far-fetched notion. We often gravitate to a retailer or service provide that has a personal touch. They greet us, know our name and go out of their way to help us. The purpose statement is just an elevated version of the personal touch.

Kenny isn't encouraging anyone to toss away their mission, vision and value statements, which probably took an enormous amount of time, energy and patience to create. Hang them in your workroom or hallway, then go to work on a purpose statement that belongs on your front door.