A friend and I like to joke about her company’s mission statement. I ask some version of “How’s that mission working for you?” She responds with “I’m not sure. I can’t remember where I put the laminated card.”
While I’m generally a big fan of words, when it comes to purpose-related statements (Mission, Vision, Values); I’m not overly concerned about the specific words. Instead I mostly care about the ideas the words represent.
Purpose statement goals
These sorts of statements are supposed to accomplish several goals:
- Focus and align action.
- Create energy and passion.
- Provide a decision-making framework.
If these goals can be achieved without well-crafted statements, I’m good with that. It is, after all, the goal that matters.
Suppose you and your team meet to clarify your purpose. At first most of the team doesn’t understand why you called the meeting. You’re a medical clinic. The purpose is obvious, right?
But you nudge the discussion forward. As the conversation proceeds, lofty phrases are bandied about, “We provide the city’s best primary healthcare in a manner which…” Blah Blah Blah.
At this point you can spend time making the words sound better or you can start talking about the more important questions that lead to a truer, more meaningful sense of purpose.
In this case I would suggest the team spend some time thinking about what it means to be the best. Maybe some of these topics are included in your discussion:
- Accessible appointments.
- Kind and friendly staff.
- Willingness to spend time with the patients.
- Medical expertise.
- Wait times.
It would be easy to answer “Yes” to all of the above. But if that’s where the conversation goes, you may as well end the meeting and go back to work. Your work will be pointless. Remember the purpose statement goals.
Get past the obvious and instead dive deep into the nuance that will prevent conflicts and provide clearer direction.
Let’s say you notice a collective group spark around the idea of friendly care. So what’s that mean? It could include a whole list of behaviors:
- Greeting patients by name.
- Engaging in small talk.
- Great active listening.
Now you’re getting somewhere. If you would have stopped with some version of “friendly healthcare,” your team members wouldn’t share a common understanding of what that means in practice.
It also opens the conversation to the tougher questions such as “How much small talk do we engage in when the waiting room is full of patients?” That’s a great question. A better one might be “What does friendly look like when we are super busy?”
The conversation continues. The group points out more dilemmas and trade-offs. That’s perfect. Exactly where you want this discussion to go because now the group can start to make decisions about the preferred action people should take when faced with tough decisions. Clarity of purpose grows. This is the point of the exercise.
Don’t sweat the words
If you want to create a powerful sense of purpose for your organization, then I suggest you and your collaborators put down the pens and markers and shut off your laptop. Your purpose statements aren’t about the words but rather the ideas.
I can help by facilitating this sort of discussion within your organization. Schedule a phone call, and I’d be happy to discuss your goals and unique circumstances.
When you and your team all share a common sense of these ideas, then you can work on ways to bring them to life in the real world in which you all work.
Save a little money. Forget the laminated cards. Get a clearer and more inspiring sense of purpose.