Conscious companies are deeply committed to having a positive impact. The best of them clearly communicate that commitment through their purpose, vision, mission, and values statements — but this can be hard to do! There are many definitions of these statements floating around out there and it can be hard to understand how each is distinct, relevant, and important, and how they relate to one another.
So why have purpose, vision, and mission statements? Why articulate your core values?
By creating these statements, you’re letting the world know what your business is all about. This is important for employees, partners, and consumers as they make decisions that align with their values. Having a clear “why” increases brand loyalty and improves employee engagement. Employees who know they are working on more than generating profits and are committed to the company’s desired impact tend to be more engaged and fulfilled by their work. Additionally, these statements provide clear parameters for making better long-term decisions for your company.
The difference between each of these terms can feel quite subtle and they are often thrown around interchangeably. However, each statement serves a distinct purpose. When articulated together, your purpose, vision, mission and core values statements tell a clear story about your organization and its impact.
Purpose is what guides you. Your organization's purpose statement shares why you exist; why you do what you do. It charts the course for your company’s mission, vision, and core values. It provides a lens for making decisions, designing company culture, and presenting to the outside world.
According to Afdel Aziz and Bobby Jones, cofounders of Good is the New Cool, and authors of Good is the New Cool: Principles of Purpose, a great purpose statement has seven important qualities:
It is inspiring - it should be the aspirational “spark at the heart of your company that keeps the engine running”.
It is succinct - short, sweet, and most importantly, memorable.
It should have a role and an outcome - the brand plays the role, and the outcome is what it wants to achieve.
It should have a tension that is unresolvable - there might be two conflicting intentions or ambitions that create a space for continuous innovation, growth, and improvement.
It strikes a balance between aspiration and precision - a great purpose statement is aspirational but not vague (ie: To make the world a better place). It’s precise without limiting growth or innovation.
It can be a “general purpose” statement or a “social purpose” statement - a general purpose statement does not have to have a social or environmental impact. While this doesn’t limit a company from addressing these issues in their actions, it’s simply not their core reason for being. A social purpose statement, on the other hand, does mean that a company, at its core, exists to address an environmental or social issue.
It can evolve with the times - The world is not static, and your company’s purpose statement does not have to be either. It can (and should) evolve and grow with the company over time, and as the context around it changes.
What’s most important to remember is that a purpose statement is a promise your brand makes to the world. If there are not clear, solid, measurable actions and commitments that back your purpose statement, it can quickly become meaningless. Your business’s job is not to “make the world a better place” — your business exists to solve a specific issue.
Coursera, an on-line learning platform that is accessible anywhere and offers certifications and degrees, clearly describes what they stand for in their purpose statement:
“Anyone, anywhere has the power to transform their life through learning.”
A great vision statement articulates what the future looks like when your company has fulfilled its purpose. It describes the measurable impacts your business is committed to achieving and paints a clear picture of that vision to all stakeholders. It provides direction to everyone in your company as they focus their efforts on achieving the vision. Your company’s vision statement should be specific enough that you can design metrics to measure success and keep your company on course to fulfill its purpose.
Swedish furniture giant, Ikea, is doing many things to positively impact people and planet. They have experienced explosive growth but their well-articulated vision has remained true since the beginning:
“Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people.“
Your company’s mission statement is the path between your purpose and vision. It provides a guide for accomplishing your desired impact and describes how your product or service contributes to achieving that goal. Your mission statement informs your stakeholders of exactly how your company intends to deliver on its promise for the future.
While you may have watched many of the videos of remarkable and inspiring speakers, we’re celebrating TED for more than their ability to entertain and inform us. The organization’s mission statement is strong and touches on all of the qualities listed above:
“Our Mission: Spread ideas”
“TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. On TED.com, we're building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world's most inspired thinkers — and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other, both online and at TED and TEDx events around the world, all year long.”
Core values, sometimes also called Core Principles, are the fundamental shared beliefs of an organization which inform and inspire the ethics, behavior, communication style, and culture within a company. They are an internal code of conduct, encouraging actions and attitudes that will help the organization achieve its mission, and they are also guiding principles for how a company shows up and engages with the outside world.
As the bedrock of an organization, core values clarify the commitment that a company makes for how it engages with all of its stakeholders. They can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying identity and building trust through consistency and integrity over time.
In practice, your organization’s core values must be authentic, well-known to everyone in the organization, thoughtfully chosen, and reflected in the behavior and culture — especially from everyone in leadership. They’re meaningless if they only exist in a handbook that’s stashed away in a drawer and rarely looked at. If your values are not honest, they can be highly destructive, misleading stakeholders, undermining your brand’s credibility, and reeking of insincerity. If you want to work toward living and embodying your core values as a company, you must bring them forward, celebrate them by sharing how you are succeeding and acknowledge where you’re striving to improve.
When it comes to the core values themselves, here are a few pieces of advice:
Make them clear - Each core value should be clearly written
Make them memorable - They should be succinct
Make them authentic and unique to your organization - They should be written in your company's brand voice.
Take your time to develop these. Make sure they ring true and are something that you can live by. Once developed, share them broadly, post them on the walls, and ensure all your employees and company leaders know them and strive to live by them.
A&R Solar has been delivering a more sustainable approach to powering homes in the Pacific Northwest since 2007. They are a social purpose corporation dedicated to a new and different approach to business. They’re committed to continuous improvement and their values guide their company culture and process:
People First - We will invest in our people first, and foster a culture that supports employee growth, because we believe the best way to exceed client expectations is through a superior workforce.
Collaboration - Great teams deliver great results, so we will hire the best people, encouraging them to think and solve problems using collaborative and innovative thinking.
Details Matter - We will listen carefully to what our customers want, and pay close attention to the details of each project so we can deliver solutions that satisfy a specific set of needs and expectations.
Commitment to Craft - We will apply the highest standards of excellence to deliver the most reliable and dependable finished products, and always stand behind our work.
Honor Our Future - We offer products and services that align with our values and our customers’ values to ensure we are making positive impacts in our communities and the environment for generations to come.
Be Genuine - We will strive to earn our customers’ loyalty and respect by explaining each project outcome honestly and upfront, with a friendly and informative voice.
Integrity Matters - Our actions and decisions will be guided by our values, and made in the best interest of our clients, to build relationships based on trust.
Anchoring Your Identity with Intention
Creating your purpose, mission, vision, and value statements will take time, but it’s a worthwhile investment. These statements not only help to embed meaning and purpose into your business, they ensure that you’re not reinventing your brand identity every time you articulate what your company stands for. Strong statements can align and inspire all of your stakeholders. Remember that authenticity is the key, and the best way to be authentic is to practice living them every day. It’s not just a branding exercise, it’s what sets you apart, provides clarity, and defines your competitive advantage.