Organizations that clearly define their purpose or mission, and activate values to support them, are well positioned for long-term success in a rapidly changing business climate. These purpose- and mission-driven organizations are clear about why they exist and how they plan to achieve their objectives. They’re well-equipped to navigate change, disruption and rising expectations from employees, customers, partners and their communities. Navigating these market pressures has never been more important as businesses face a competitive landscape and rate of change unlike anything experienced before.
Purpose, mission and values are strategic business elements that, when thoughtfully developed and effectively implemented, act as a roadmap, helping organizations stay on track and work toward achieving their ultimate goals. They help guide business decisions, inspire employees and establish customer loyalty.
In Beehive’s Guide to Purpose, Mission, and Values Alignment, we:
- Provide a level set on definitions for purpose, mission and values
- Clarify the business case for selecting either a mission-driven or purpose-driven approach
- Explain why purpose, mission and values alignment is increasingly critical to business success
- Demonstrate the importance of values for activating purpose or mission
- Highlight how purpose, mission and values alignment leads to better business outcomes
- Provide recommendations on how to use strategic communication for effective purpose, mission and values alignment
- Clarify why now is the time to prioritize this work
Purpose, mission and values alignment starts with understanding the difference between these terms. When leaders understand the difference between purpose and mission, and how values can support either, they can leverage these elements effectively to move their organization in the optimal direction for success.
- Purpose: Purpose defines why an organization exists. Purpose-driven businesses are committed to working toward something greater than profit and shareholder value. They deliver impact to a community broader than just those directly affected by their business (e.g., customers, employees, shareholders). Purpose-driven companies work to make a positive impact on society, often by creating a more ethical, equitable and sustainable world. Their reason for existence relates to the greater good.
- Mission: Mission can also define why an organization exists. Mission-driven companies focus on delivering impact specifically to their direct stakeholder groups, including customers, employees and shareholders. Mission-driven companies use their mission as a guide for accomplishing what they planned to. Their reason for existence is to benefit stakeholders positively.
- Values: Values define what an organization believes and the behaviors it agrees to live by every day. Values set expectations for how employees behave when interacting with customers, colleagues and partners. Values communicate what’s important to the organization and provide clarity and direction for decision-making. Some organizations use the terms guiding principles, company principles and company beliefs interchangeably for values.
Purpose and mission serve the same role for organizations but are achieved in different ways and have different impacts. Purpose and mission are an organization’s reason for being and guide decision-making.
However, organizations cannot be both purpose-driven and mission-driven, even though a purpose and mission serve the same strategic role. Being a purpose-driven business is much different in practice than being a mission-driven one. Purpose-driven companies organize their business, processes and employees around impacting the greater good. A purpose is both timeless and often global in scope.
Mission-driven companies also make a positive impact, but they’re doing so for a narrower set of stakeholders. Additionally, a company’s mission might change over time as the market shifts or business objectives change. A purpose, on the other hand, rarely — if ever — changes.
It’s common for organizations to confuse these two terms, yet it’s essential to distinguish whether a company is purpose- or mission-driven. The specific examples below paint a clear picture of the differences between the two.
Examples of purpose-driven companies
Purpose-driven companies are guided by purpose as a business model. They exist not solely to maximize profit or increase shareholder value but equally to make a lasting, beneficial impact on the world. Purpose-driven businesses measure success based on how significant an impact they have on the specific global issues they’re trying to influence. An example of a purpose-driven consumer brand is Tom’s Shoes.
Tom’s impact webpage reads, “we’re in business to improve lives.” Tom’s doesn’t exist simply to sell shoes. It exists to “help humanity thrive” by helping people across the globe “feel physically safe, mentally healthy and have equal access to opportunity.”
Tom’s lives out its company purpose by giving grants to organizations that support its efforts to improve lives. Tom’s partners with these organizations to provide numerous life-improving services, including sight-saving surgeries, free mental healthcare, education to children living in poverty and clean water to those who can’t access it. It gives these organizations $1 for every $3 the company earns and gives away shoes to communities that need them. Tom’s uses its profit from selling shoes to support its purpose of improving lives.
Tom’s Shoes embeds its purpose into its business, processes and culture. The company is actively working to increase its sustainability efforts by incorporating more sustainable materials into its products and shipping materials. One way Tom’s keeps its employees and culture aligned to its business purpose is by funding “Giving Trips.” Giving Trips are “a fully funded opportunity [for employees and shareholders] to travel to another country or state, and learn alongside [its] Giving Partners.” Tom’s says these trips inspire “an even stronger commitment to [its] shared purpose,” and 60 percent of its employees have gone on at least one trip.
But not all purpose-driven companies have a direct contribution structure. Other examples of purpose-driven companies include:
- Unilever: To make sustainable living commonplace
- Patagonia: To save our home planet
- Whole Foods: To nourish people and the planet
- Danone: Bringing health through food to as many people as possible
In each of these examples, the organization commits to more than delivering value to its direct stakeholders. These purpose-driven businesses use the profit they make to address significant global issues and positively impact the world.
Demonstrating the impact of a purpose-driven business
Consumer trust in brands is declining. It’s not enough for companies to say they’re purpose-driven; they need to prove it. Purpose-driven companies must take an extra step to demonstrate that they are acting according to their purpose — another critical difference between purpose- and mission-driven companies.
Verifying that an organization is purpose-driven requires transparency and third-party validation. Organizations committed to their purpose must demonstrate they’re living up to the high standards that come with existing to serve the greater good. Enlisting an outside party to hold the organization accountable and measure its efforts is critical.
There are a few models that measure and validate companies doing purpose work. These models are not mutually exclusive from each other, and organizations could choose to follow all of these or use a combination of them:
- Certified B Corporation: B Corp certification assesses the overall positive impact of a for-profit company. B Corp companies are legally required to balance profit and purpose by amending their governance so they can make decisions and implement practices that consider not just shareholder value, but the impact on all stakeholders — employees, customers, society and the environment. Businesses become B Corp certified to show stakeholders that their company meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
- Social Enterprise: Social enterprises are “organizations that address a basic unmet need or solve a social or environmental problem through a market-driven approach.” Social enterprises either employ people with significant barriers to employment, produce products or deliver services that have a social or environmental impact, or donate a portion of their profits to non-profit organizations that address an unmet need. The Social Enterprise Alliance provides resources for members on how they can succeed as social enterprises.
- Public Benefit Corporations: A public benefit corporation is a legal incorporation that demonstrates a company has a purpose beyond maximizing shareholder value. The steps for becoming a public benefit corporation vary by state, but all benefit corporations statutes share basic requirements. These include that “the purpose of your corporation must be to create general public benefit, that your directors consider the interests of all of the groups affected by the operation of your business and that you prepare an annual benefit report.”
Examples of mission-driven companies
Mission-driven companies align themselves to a mission that supports business objectives. A mission gives organizations clarity, direction and focus. It supports what the organization is good at as a business and elevates the customer experience.
Mission-driven companies focus on delivering value back to their key stakeholders, including customers, shareholders and employees. They don’t, however, seek to benefit a broad, global population beyond these stakeholders. Mission-driven companies measure success by revenue, profit and customer engagement.
Starbucks is an example of a popular mission-driven company. Its mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Starbucks doesn’t exist to solve a significant societal problem, like poverty, climate change or racial inequity. It exists to enrich its customers’ lives with its coffee and coffee shops. Starbucks’ mission statement is still clarifying, elevating and inspiring, but it’s not focused on solving a global problem or delivering global good.
Other examples of mission-driven companies include:
- Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible
- Peloton: Using technology and design to connect the world through fitness, empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere, anytime.
- Southwest Airlines: Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable and low-cost air travel. (Note: Southwest lists this as a purpose statement on their website, but we contend that Southwest is mission-driven versus purpose-driven.)
Determining the best model for an organization
Choosing whether to be a purpose-driven business or mission-driven one is an important strategic decision. Doing so clarifies whom the organization serves and how it should be structured. These factors influence company values, which inform the type of workplace culture needed to achieve the purpose or mission.
Being purpose-driven is not the right decision for all organizations. Below are three key questions leaders should ask themselves when determining whether to be purpose- or mission-driven:
- How interested, willing and able is the organization to embed a broad-reaching, global purpose into its business, process and culture?
- How committed is the organization to transparent reporting on all business practices, particularly related to supply chain partners, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and corporate giving?
- How appealing is the commitment to balance profit with people and the planet?
Operating a purpose-driven business requires organizations to embed purpose into everything they do, including finance and operations. This goes as deep as vetting all suppliers to ensure they meet the standards the organization has set for itself and fulfilling the highest levels of transparency in financial reporting.
Purpose-driven businesses must also measure and report on their impact to remain accountable. Customers, employees, shareholders and communities can then see how committed the organization is to working toward its purpose, which deepens trust.
Aligning to a purpose is a long-term strategy that requires significant business investments for the greater good. Mission-driven companies invest wisely to serve their direct stakeholders positively. Both purpose-and mission-driven companies have effective frameworks in place to guide smart business decisions. Leaders who choose the best model for their organizations have greater clarity and can more effectively drive impact and successful outcomes.
Organizations are facing significant economic, environmental, political and technological changes that are influencing how employees work and how consumers buy. These changes aren’t slowing down, and they require businesses to evolve quickly and continually. Research firm Gartner, not surprisingly, recently found that seventy-three percent of organizations expect more change in the next few years.
An organization can easily get steered off track when facing significant change if it’s not clear about where it’s going and why. Aligning to a clear mission or purpose helps organizations navigate these shifts by keeping them laser-focused on making decisions in support of the organization’s “why.”
Factors driving the need for purpose, mission, values alignment
Employee and consumer expectations are rising. Organizations can no longer be in business solely to sell things. Stakeholders demand better business practices and want organizations to be environmentally and socially responsible.
Rising employee expectations
Employees expect more from their employers than ever before. In addition to looking for flexible work arrangements and professional growth opportunities, employees want to find purpose and meaning in their work. Millennials, which are now the largest generation in the workforce, are driving this shift, but these higher expectations are becoming the status quo among all workers as social consciousness increases.
A recent survey conducted by BetterUp found that 90 percent of employees — across age and salary groups — are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. A workplace culture survey conducted by LinkedIn found similar results: seventy-one percent of respondents said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that has a mission they believe in and shared values or guiding principles.
Employees also expect organizations to be environmentally responsible and implementing stronger diversity and inclusion programs. Employers are taking note. Thirty-eight percent of executives see their organizations taking on more responsibility for societal issues as something that will impact the organization over the next couple of years.
Rising consumer expectations
Consumers are also making purchasing decisions based on an organization’s purpose or mission. Accenture recently surveyed nearly 30,000 consumers and found that 63 percent “prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs, and are ditching those that don’t.” Consumers clearly want to buy from organizations that use high-quality ingredients and treat employees and the environment well.
It’s not enough for organizations to say they’re acting in line with a mission or purpose. Transparency and trust have never been more critical. Seventy-four percent of consumers crave greater transparency from companies, yet, nationally, trust began to decline in 2017 at a steeper rate than ever before. If companies say one thing yet act another way, organizations will damage trust between themselves and consumers, and consumers will take their business elsewhere.
Being mission- or purpose-driven is no longer a choice. Employees expect their work to contribute to an organization’s mission or purpose, and consumers are keeping tabs on whether the brands they buy from are acting in the best interest of their stakeholders and the communities they impact.
The shift to purpose-driven business
Businesses are taking note of the shifting dynamics that reward organizations for being purpose-driven as well. Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the largest multinational investment management firm in the world, penned a letter to CEOs in 2017 that brought socially conscious investment to the national stage.
Fink noted the economic, technological and political changes that businesses need to be aware of today. He told clients, “we will be looking to see how your strategic framework reflects and recognizes the impact of the past year’s changes in the global environment. How have these changes impacted your strategy, and how do you plan to pivot, if necessary, in light of the new world in which you are operating?” This letter indicated, on a well-respected, global stage, that profit is no longer the only thing that matters — even to investment firms.
A more recent indicator of companies moving beyond shareholder profits came in August 2019 when the Business Roundtable issued a new statement on the purpose of corporations. Nearly 200 CEOs agreed to move beyond “shareholder primacy,” which states that corporations “exist principally to serve shareholders.” Instead, these CEOs agreed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.
These official declarations are driving businesses toward purpose-driven models. Yet, both purpose- and mission-driven frameworks support better business because each requires organizations to evolve continually toward being better tomorrow than they are today. The most important thing for organizations to do is to understand their “why,” create alignment across the organization and do the work required to live the organization’s chosen path.
A word on vision
Organizations have traditionally paired their mission statement with a vision. Vision is what the organization will accomplish and by when. It defines what problem the organization is trying to solve and the aspirational future state the organization hopes to achieve. Vision is specific and time-bound, unlike purpose and mission, which organizations continuously measure against and work toward. Organizations that use vision statements should be willing to hold themselves accountable for achieving them within a certain amount of time.
Vision statements have become increasingly unnecessary in today’s business environment. They’re typically redundant with other strategic elements, like business objectives, which can create confusion. Vision can also be complicated to manage as businesses encounter an increasing rate of change, requiring them to shift their vision frequently.
Organizations that forgo a vision statement in favor of a clear, consistent purpose, mission and values create better alignment and momentum.
Values are what an organization believes and the behaviors it agrees to embody. Some organizations call these guiding principles, company principles or company beliefs. Mission and purpose answer the question of why an organization exists. Values answer the question of how it gets where it wants to go.
Values give an organization the structure needed to empower employees to work toward achieving the purpose or mission collectively. Not every employee has a seat at the boardroom table, but they do have a role to play in living the organization’s values.
Values inform decisions and give employees guidance on how they’re expected to do their job and interact with colleagues, clients and partners. They create a common language across an organization. Values also set expectations for how the organization promises to interact with its stakeholders.
Choosing authentic values
An organization’s values or guiding principles should support its “why” and its business objectives. Organizations should consider what behaviors will reflect the organizational culture and drive successful outcomes when choosing values. Values should be both authentic and aspirational, pointed toward what the organization is committed to becoming. Ultimately, when values align with an organization’s purpose or mission, the speed at which they can achieve results accelerates.
A business that needs to maintain a high-level of client service to fulfill its purpose, for example, needs values in place that build trust with clients. Earning trust may mean the organization expects transparent communication and action-oriented behavior from its employees.
A health sciences company that relies on accurate scientific practices to achieve its mission may choose integrity as a value. Prioritizing integrity at the organization means employees are expected to behave ethically and report behavior at all levels of the organization if it doesn’t support the value. Leaders might establish multiple communication channels for employees to report unethical behavior, including anonymous channels, and develop policies stating that anyone reporting unethical behavior can do so without fear of retribution. The organization can more effectively work toward its mission when employees embody integrity as an organizational value.
A technology company with a mission to develop and deliver innovative technology needs values that support innovation. Innovation often requires risk-taking and collaboration. The company would be wise to incorporate these desired behaviors as values to encourage employees across the organization to try new things, push boundaries and share ideas. Leaders can incentivize the value by creating rewards and recognition for innovative ideas or provide employees with dedicated work time to pursue innovative strategies.
Organizations that have values, guiding principles, company principles or company beliefs misaligned to their purpose or mission should spend time redefining values. These organizations can ask themselves:
- What behaviors will enable our purpose or mission?
- How do we want to show up in the world?
- What do we believe, and what are the behaviors we agree to live by?
- When someone is demonstrating this value, what are they doing?
- What behaviors are authentic to our organization, and do they align with the future of the company?
- How are we willing to model our values every day — through talent-related initiatives like hiring, incentivizing and promoting?
Establishing a set of values is just the first step. Activating those values is where organizations create true impact. Organizations should start by clearly defining what each value means to employees and their behaviors. Clearly defined values create shared understanding and consistency across an organization. This clarity empowers employees to embrace the values and work accordingly.
Let’s consider an organization with a value of being growth-minded, which is defined as having a curious mindset to help grow the business. A growth-minded value can only become part of how the organization operates when employees understand what the value means and how they are supposed to act based on it.
Using examples to articulate what the value means helps employees visualize how they can live and activate it in their day-to-day work. Organizations with a value of being growth-minded might bring it to life by encouraging employees to seek out professional development opportunities, creating an open and transparent feedback loop for employees to share ideas with leadership, and encouraging and fostering collaboration among colleagues. Employees effectively shift how they make decisions, approach their work and communicate with others when they understand and embrace organizational values.
Below are some additional ways an organization can activate its values or guiding principles:
- Reinforce values through communication and leadership modeling. Leaders must model organizational values if they expect employees to adopt them. Employees are more likely to embody the values themselves if they hear leaders talking about and modeling them in their behaviors, actions and decisions. The organization should also tie any new policy, product or initiative back to its values to reinforce their importance and provide clarity on how they come to life through the organization’s decisions and actions.
- Hire based on values by incorporating them into recruiting and interviewing. Organizations need the right people in place to achieve their mission or purpose. Values aligned to the purpose or mission help organizations hire the right employees. Incorporating values into recruiting efforts, including values-based interview questions, helps organizations hire and retain the right people needed to achieve its purpose or mission with energy, passion and efficiency.
Being clear about values or guiding principles also helps organizations attract candidates whose personal values align with organizational values. Employees are more likely to be creative, inspired and loyal when their values are in sync with the organization’s values. Misaligned employees will be less passionate, committed and productive.
- Review, incentivize and recognize employees based on how well they embody organizational values. Reviewing employees against values allows organizations to incentivize and reward them based on these priorities. Rewarding value-aligned behavior is both positive reinforcement for employee behavior and a demonstration of how seriously the organization takes its values.
Values provide an objective filter for conducting employee performance reviews. With a strong set of values, organizations can celebrate, coach and correct behaviors to ensure employees are in alignment with the company’s values. Organizations can more quickly fulfill their purpose or mission when employees are acting against the same set of values.
- Bring values to life in the workplace. There are many ways to visually weave values into the workplace to reinforce the organization’s commitment. Consider posting values on walls throughout offices, creating computer screensavers, incorporating them into slide deck templates, and integrating the values into the workspace itself. For example, if wellness is a value, provide access to a fitness center, offer healthy snacks and install standing or walking desks. If collaboration is a value, offer creative brainstorm rooms, develop a culture of face-to-face meetings over emails and integrate office seating across departments or practice groups. Spend time considering ways to creatively, visually and operationally reinforce values or guiding principles.
Values are essential to achieving a purpose or mission. They influence employee behavior by setting expectations for how the organization expects employees to interact with colleagues, partners and customers.
Patagonia regularly receives accolades for being a purpose-driven company. Corley Kenna, Patagonia’s Director of Global Communications and Public Relations, said in a recent interview, “We’ve found that when we put the planet first and do the right things for the planet, it winds up being good for business. It has proven itself over and over again.” The numbers back this up. Patagonia’s revenue has quadrupled since Rose Marcario began as Patagonia’s CEO in 2008. Marcario, who has led the effort to intensify the company’s activism in pursuit of its environmental purpose, said in an interview with Fast Company that “doing good work for the planet creates new markets and makes [us] more money.”
Organizations like Patagonia experience better business outcomes with purpose, mission and values alignment. Consider Certified B Corporations as another example. Organizations that earn B Corp certification are holding themselves accountable for working toward their mission or purpose. Recent research found that B Corps have higher sales growth and above-average brand ranking compared to other brands in their categories.
Purpose- and mission-driven companies are better to work for and do business with because their commitment to their “why” enables a better customer, employee, partner or shareholder experience.
How purpose, mission and values affect business metrics
A workplace culture survey conducted by LinkedIn found that 87 percent of Americans say having pride in the company they work for matters. Yet, only four in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes their job feel important. Gallup predicts that organizations could reduce absenteeism by 41 percent and improve quality by 33 percent if organizations increase this ratio to eight in 10 employees.
Employees also want to know how their work impacts the organization’s mission or purpose. Gallup found that employees are three-and-a-half times more likely to be engaged when employees see how their work connects to the organization’s goals. The impact of strong employee engagement is far-reaching. Organizations scoring in the top quartile of employee engagement surveys experience better customer engagement, productivity, retention and 21 percent higher profitability.
Purpose and mission impact real business outcomes. Below are four additional ways being purpose, mission and values aligned impacts business in a positive, tangible way:
- Improved retention and recruitment. Employees increasingly want to work for organizations that are making a difference for their stakeholders. Employees consider purpose twice as important on average than traditional motivators like compensation and career advancement. Company purpose is also one of the strongest retention drivers for millennial employees. Retention will improve and recruitment will become easier when organizations activate their purpose or mission. Employees are more likely to want to work for an organization when they understand why their work matters.
- Thriving innovation and creativity. Having a clear purpose or mission helps organizations be more innovative, which is especially important in times of industry disruption. Sixty-eight percent of “purposeful companies” agreed that purpose is extremely critical to an organization’s ability to innovate in times of disruption. Purpose or mission also serves as a stable reminder of why the organization exists, keeping the organization on its intended path during times of change.
Employees are also more likely to contribute innovative and creative ideas when they believe in the organization’s purpose, mission and values. Effective purpose- and mission-driven organizations consistently help employees understand why their work matters, how their innovation and creativity helps the company reach its objectives quicker, and why that creates value for both them and the organization.
- Increased loyalty and trust. It pays to build trust and loyalty with customers. Numerous studies show that repeat customers spend more money than new ones and are less expensive to sell to than acquiring new customers. A recent study from CGS found that the second-highest reason repeat customers return to a brand is its sustainable/ethical business practices and the fourth reason is the brand mission. Customers appreciate — and respond with their purchasing dollars — when organizations stand for something beyond profit alone. Mission- and purpose-driven businesses should share why they exist, what they’re trying to do, and whom they serve to build trust, loyalty and preference.
- Healthier workplace culture. There are clear benefits to workplace culture when the company organizes itself around its purpose or mission. Organizations that clearly define and communicate the value they deliver to the world or their stakeholders have employees who are significantly more motivated and passionate than employees at companies that don’t effectively communicate their purpose or mission. Passionate, motivated, inspired and engaged employees contribute to a healthy workplace culture. Healthy workplace culture leads to better-performing employees who can more effectively activate the organization’s values and work toward the purpose or mission.
Distraction, disengagement and inconsistency result when purpose, mission and values are out of sync. Organizations experience higher profitability and better retention, engagement, innovation and creativity when purpose, mission and values are clear. Employees work more effectively together toward a shared objective, and customers trust organizations that work toward delivering positive value to their stakeholders or a larger global community.
Unique challenges of being a purpose-driven business
Companies cannot create a purpose or mission statement and then call their work done. Organizations that say they’re purpose- or mission-driven but then don’t operate accordingly will lose trust from important stakeholder groups, including employees, customers and shareholders.
This risk is higher for purpose-driven companies because they could be accused of purpose-washing. Purpose-washing is when an organization uses purpose primarily as a marketing tactic or campaign versus using it to inform strategic business decisions (e.g., launching a marketing campaign about sustainability or combating climate change, but then not having sustainable business operations).
Audiences who interact with the brand, including customers, partners and employees, ultimately determine whether the organization is authentically living its purpose. Nike, which developed marketing and advertising campaigns around female empowerment and equity, was later called out for purpose-washing when ex-employees sued the company for gender discrimination and bias, inequitable pay and sexual harassment. Nike serves as an example that organizations must be authentic in their purpose efforts by first walking their talk before taking on a specific cause or issue.
Organizations that choose a purpose-driven path must have accountability measures in place to demonstrate progress made toward achieving their purpose. Otherwise, they create significant brand risks when they say one thing externally but then act another way internally.
Seventy-nine percent of business leaders believe that purpose is central to their organization’s success. Still, fewer than half of employees know what their organization stands for and what makes it different from competitors.
Purpose, mission and values activation requires strategic communication that provides clarity and alignment and establishes expectations. Gallup employee engagement research over the past 20 years has repeatedly found that for employees to be productive, they need clear communication about the organization’s purpose or mission. Employees who understand the purpose or mission and how they contribute to it are more motivated and passionate about their work.
Key steps to activate purpose, mission and values
Purpose, mission and values work starts with defining and articulating what these terms are, developing an activation strategy and aligning leaders as champions. Communication is vital in each of these phases. Companies cannot bring purpose, mission and values to life without comprehensive and continual communication.
Step 1: Select Purpose or Mission
Organizations must first choose whether to be purpose- or mission-driven. This is often done during executive workshops where the existing business elements are reviewed, revised or eliminated. Guidance from an external party is helpful at this stage and leadership input is essential.
Step 2: Define and Articulate Purpose or Mission and Supporting Values
The next step is to define the organization’s purpose or mission and values that support the path to why. Employees should know what each statement is and why it’s important to the organization. Communication should be clear, concise and transparent to create a shared understanding of what the organization means by its purpose, mission and values. This clarity helps employees understand what the organization is working toward, why it’s important and what role they will play in it.
Step 3: Develop Organizational Strategies and Align Leadership
Leadership must determine what needs to be done to achieve the purpose, mission and values after the organization defines them. Acting on them often requires openness to organizational changes, including changes to business operations, processes and sourcing partners. It also means determining what measurement model the purpose-driven company will use to hold itself accountable. These changes can be challenging, requiring consistent, clear and frequent communication among leaders.
Aligning leadership on the purpose, mission and values, and the importance of consistent, transparent communication is also essential during this step. Regular communication from leaders about the purpose, mission and values demonstrates a commitment to the work and an expectation for employees to embrace the values. Leaders should be aligned on key messages to avoid sending mixed messages to employees that could create confusion, distraction and, ultimately, mistrust in the company’s ability to achieve its purpose or mission.
Step 4. Activate Employees
Once executives are clear on what needs to be done to achieve the purpose or mission, they need to inform, motivate and educate employees to take the actions necessary to get the desired results. Activating employees requires consistent communication focused on helping them understand their role in the purpose or mission, then empowering inspiring them to embrace and live it. The internal communication strategy should leverage multiple channels to accommodate different learning styles and can incorporate videos, infographics, written documents and in-person events.
Employees are ultimately responsible for doing the work required to achieve the purpose or mission. They need to buy in to why it’s important, and they need to know how they can work toward achieving it. Enlisting support from employee ambassadors who are naturally influential can be effective for motivating other employees to embrace the purpose, mission and values. Reviewing and rewarding employees against not only the values but also the work they’re doing in support of the purpose or mission can effectively reinforce the organization’s commitment to it.
Effective communication strategies
Organizations undertaking a significant purpose, mission and values initiative (versus simply refreshing values) may consider approaching the initiative from a change management communication perspective. Activating a purpose or mission and its supporting values often represents a significant organizational change. It can include changing employee behavior to work toward the purpose or mission and live by the organizational values. Changes like these can fail when companies neglect to communicate effectively.
Activating purpose, mission and values requires a commitment to proactive, frequent and clear communication that helps to educate, inspire, create new habits and build trust. Organizations can do this by:
- Explaining why the purpose, mission and values are necessary for the organization’s future success
- Demonstrating the role employees play in activation and how employee performance will be measured
- Keeping leaders involved, committed and communicating about the purpose, mission and values
- Engaging in open, collaborative two-way communication about the organization’s progress toward achieving its purpose or mission
- Leveraging multiple communication channels and weaving purpose, mission and values information into all relevant initiatives
- Celebrating wins as the organization works to achieve its purpose or mission
Infusing the purpose, mission and values into everything the organization says and does helps drive clarity and understanding and motivates employees to embrace the organization’s “why” and “how.” Effective communication has the potential to turn employees into advocates both inside and outside the organization.
Measuring the success of purpose, mission and values activation
There are numerous metrics to track that can provide insight into how effectively the organization is activating its purpose, mission and values. These metrics include:
- Retention and recruitment. These metrics measure the average length of employee tenure and how long it takes to fill an open role. Organizations that are clear about their purpose or mission are magnets for the right employees and are more likely to keep these employees longer. Retention and recruitment should improve for organizations that are effectively operating based on their purpose, mission and values.
- eNPS (employee Net Promoter Score). This one-question survey asks employees how likely they are to recommend the organization as a workplace. Employees are more motivated, passionate and engaged when they understand their organization’s purpose or mission and the role they play in it. These employees are more likely to give strong eNPS ratings. Learn more about using eNPS here.
- NPS (Net Promoter Score). This one-question survey asks customers how likely they are to recommend a brand to a friend or family member. Today’s customers care about whether an organization is living up to its purpose or mission. They pay attention to things like how a company treats its employees, the environment and the communities in which they operate. Companies will likely see an increase in NPS when they build trust with customers by aligning to a purpose or mission.
- Employee engagement. These metrics assess how engaged employees are based on standard questions about how happy they are at work and the strength of their relationships with colleagues and their boss. Employees aligned to the organization’s purpose, mission and values will be more engaged and committed to their work. Weak employee engagement metrics could indicate the organization hasn’t successfully activated its purpose, mission and values, or it might not be attracting the right employees.
- Business performance. Business metrics like sales revenue, cost of acquisition and customer retention rates can also indicate how well an organization has activated its purpose, mission and values. Customers increasingly want to do business with companies that operate on strong values and purpose. Business performance also improves when companies are clear about the reason they exist and make all decisions in support of that reason.
Organizations should choose metrics they can routinely track to measure the performance of purpose, mission and values activation. Evaluating these metrics helps leaders identify misalignment and spot areas for improvement.
Being purpose- or mission-driven is no longer a choice.
Employees want to know the work they do means something and has an impact beyond their paycheck. Providing a job to employees is no longer enough.
Consumers want to do business with companies that are dedicated to a cause bigger than their own profits. Consumers buy from companies more than once when they trust them. How businesses behave strongly impacts that trust. Providing a high-quality product or service is no longer enough.
Shareholders want to invest in companies that are in it for more than just profit. They know that companies dedicated to something larger than themselves will be more successful in the long-run. They expect the businesses they invest in to have a clear direction, know why they exist and provide a consistent, high-level experience based on values or guiding principles. Delivering strong shareholder returns is no longer enough.
The future success of a business depends on whether it can effectively align to a purpose or mission, and inspire employees to act based on a guiding set of shared values. Today’s organizations need clarity, transparency, and accountability. They need to do better.