STRATEGIC NARRATIVE INSIGHTS
A Pattern For Better Purpose Statements
Describing your company’s purpose with a short statement is helpful. It will help everyone understand and remember why your organization exists. However, trying to encapsulate something as big and powerful as purpose in a short sentence is challenging and can be dangerous if you don’t do it right.
It’s the norm. We commonly associate the word purpose with the idea of a one or two-sentence statement.
This concept became popular in the 60s as part of the toolkit to make any business succeed. The goal is to codify the company’s ideals and provide a set of principles to guide its actions and decisions. But let’s face it, it’s hardly the case.
When a mission statement rings hollow, it doesn’t help people make decisions. Your team will ignore it. We see it all the time. Who cares about purpose anymore during the negotiation of a contract. It would help if we could use purpose as a guidepost then. Make it specific. Use people’s own words. Involve your team in crafting it so you ensure that people use it since it will be their own words.
Starting with a statement is flawed. Instead, Craft your purpose statement after you’ve created your narrative. Like the title of a book or the subject line of an email, it is easier to write it once we know the details about the opportunity you are pursuing.
A purpose statement alone is not enough. People need to create their interpretation of it to know what to do with it every day. You need to guide people through this translation process with conversations, opportunities to tell stories in public, and the chance to create meaningful written and visual content.
It is hard to create and align with a purpose statement in a one-time fierce effort such as a leadership retreat. Inevitably, this expectation leads the group involved to shoot for perfection. Even if people say that they’re OK with a “good-enough” version, they’ll turn themselves into wordsmiths. This habit always makes the approach painful and delays shipping the final version. Recognize that the process needs to be generative and requires fast iterations over a longer period of time.
Too many organizations craft a purpose statement for the wrong reasons. They do it because it’s in style, or they think of purpose as a slogan that they can use for marketing purposes or to motivate employees. But on the other end, many successful and large companies don’t have a purpose statement. Don’t follow the herd. Invest in creating one only if you feel that it will help.
Purpose lives very well through rich stories, long-form content, drawings, images, music, acting, videos, and more. These are very potent ways to support the creation of a purpose-filled narrative for your organization.
- We will recognize that a purpose is not just a statement.
- We will only craft our purpose statements once we feel like our narrative is alive if we feel like it’s still necessary.
- We won’t start by trying to come up with a statement when we want to reframe and revive our company narrative.
- We will first gather rich content to express the impact that our company has on our community.
- We will think of a statement as our narrative's title, providing both a synopsis and an emotional "hook" to stimulate interest.