Make Your Purpose an Idea and Not a Statement

Think about an idea that took shape in your mind, one that was so compelling that you couldn’t wait to bring it to life.

Now imagine sharing your idea with a couple people, and they like it so much that they each share it with several more. The idea continues to gain support, and you can feel the building momentum.

That sense of shared focus is what the right purpose can do for your organization. It’s an idea that everyone wants to make happen.

It’s not about the words

What’s your company’s purpose?

Please tell me you didn’t just reach for your wallet to dig out the card on which these sacred words have been printed. Words so important that you carry them everywhere you go. After all, one never knows when the need to read a mission statement might arise. And who can say what miracles might occur if one invokes that magical phrase.

Yeah, I should probably turn down the volume on my sarcasm, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Organizations go through so much effort crafting purpose statements and then treat them like the end point. Once the words are written and the documents printed, the leadership team feels proud of its accomplishment and then checks that item off its collective to-do list. Back to business as usual. The surprise comes later when these statements didn’t haven’t any meaningful impact.

Find the right idea

You don’t need employees to recite your purpose. You want them to feel in their guts. You want them to be moved by it. To them your purpose should be the obvious explanation for everything they do.

It makes the case that they do something extremely cool and one day, if they keep at it and are are good at it, the world will be a better place.

So why is what you do cool? And how will it make anything better?

Clearly some businesses will have a harder time identifying the coolness factor, but I believe you can do it. If you couldn’t, why would you even stay in business?

The idea you are looking for is the one that helps everyone understand what you do and why you do it. Stay away from the markers and close the laptops. You’re not brainstorming. You’re uncovering the meaning in what you likely already do.

Just talk. When the right purpose emerges from the conversation, you’ll feel it in your gut. People in the room will all sit up a little little straighter.

Once you have the main idea in mind, then you are ready to refine it. Not to make it sound better, but rather to make it clearer.

Let me give you a formula that might help you get it right:


Here are some simple examples:

  • We create apps that help people cook BECAUSE better cooking means better health.
  • We help young investors make better financial decisions BECAUSE we want people to be able to support themselves in retirement.
  • We provide landscaping services in the west metro BECAUSE people feel better surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

Because is a powerful word. It answers the why question. What comes after it gives meaning to what comes before it.

The next step

When you’ve found your purpose, then you are ready to communicate it and use it in practical ways that will help your company:

  1. Set goals
  2. Build alignment
  3. Recruit
  4. Clarify values
  5. Establish roles and responsibilities

Each of these justify an article of its own. Let’s leave them for another day.

Go discover your purpose. Feel free to forget the wallet cards.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce is a speaker, consultant, writer, facilitator and coach. Since 1996 he's helped workplace teams improve performance.