wordsLeaders often struggle with the capturing their “bigger why,” the compelling thing their organization is trying to achieve. One challenge is that there are multiple ways to represent it:

Purpose:  A statement of purpose focuses on how you relate to the world around you, capturing the unique and powerful role you want to play.

Mission: A mission statement conveys a sense of movement and accomplishment. You’re going toward something important and even exciting.

Vision: A vision describes an inspiring “end state” that, paradoxically, is usually unachievable.  But it captures a future scenario that is beautiful and compelling.

Goal: By contrast, a goal is concrete and achievable; in fact, we expect it to be achieved. Goals will always be advancing forward and they’re accomplished and surpassed, answering, “What’s the next step?”

Values: A set of values is enduring, capturing how an organization chooses to behave. Values are mostly driven by internal choices rather than external forces.

It would be overkill to use all five of these, especially because there’s overlap and duplication.  In the end, choose which of these will best inspire your people to deliver amazing results and consistent behavior.

Suppose that I’m running a business that manufactures the highest quality, most artistic left-handed screwdrivers in the world. (OK, maybe it’s not the most profitable idea for a business, but let’s go with it for the moment!)

Our purpose will relate to the fact that these tools are indeed unique and special. We’ve chosen to be known for aesthetic and functional qualities, something that will be communicated through our marketing. There’s no defined endpoint in the purpose; these attributes can always be improved.

Our mission, perhaps, is to change the way the world thinks about tools, and to address the needs of the left-handed artist community. In fact, screwdrivers might just be our first product, because clearly there are more things they could need. Again, this is a never-ending journey of exploration and achievement.

Our inspiring vision might be to live in the world where left-handed artisans are honored, with all their barriers removed. In this case, it answers the question, “What would happen if we fully achieved our mission?”

Some goals might be quite practical, relating to revenue and profit. Because we’ve declared ourselves to be quality-focused, we’ll have goals capturing our minimum acceptable and desired level of quality — with a timeframe attached. We’ll define how much market share we want to capture of the left-handed community.

Our values may reflect our desire to focus on this unusual customer base: “We’re artistic people serving true artisans.” They’ll also talk about the kind of organization we choose to create: “collaborative” and “playful,” or even “results-focused” and “close to our customers.”

It’s good to play around with each of these in order to figure out which ones have the most impact.  That’s not something I’d do as a large group, because people can get frustrated by spending a lot of time on this touch-feely stuff. But with one or two people, you can make rapid progress. Pick which work best for you, sketch out a starting point and then take it to a larger group for refinement and buy-in.

When I work with mission-driven leaders, we often end up describing a single vision, mission or purpose. We’re looking for something which is concise, powerful and inspiring.

Then we’ll set some goals for a specific timeframe — six months, a year and three years. It depends a bit on how fast things are changing, and the “container” if this organization is within some larger structure.

We’ll capture the values or culture. Some of these will be moral choices such as honesty and respect. Some may be driven by the kind of organization that can best deliver its mission, such as fast-moving or careful. And some values relate to the needs of the market, such as customer intimacy or professional image.

And then, only then, we figure out how to use these decisions in the marketing messages. Consistency is great, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that your marketing is your business. That becomes shallow and unstable as you adapt to change.

You need a powerful bedrock upon which to build.

I’ve put together a new online assessment which specifically helps leaders in their role of creating truly mission-driven companies. There’s no cost, and people are finding it to be quite helpful. Check it out at www.smallfish.us/mission.


This article first appeared in BizWest.

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