August 28, 2023
How to Write a Purpose Statement That Serves Its Purpose (With 10 Examples)
If you had 5 minutes – or better yet, 5 seconds, could you describe WHY your organization exists? Would your colleagues describe it in the same way? And more importantly, would they FEEL a strong connection to the company's purpose?
Companies with a clear business purpose statement, and that use their purpose statement to connect with employees, customers, and key stakeholders at a deeper level, have an edge.
Why Company Purpose Matters Even More Today
It’s not a new concept: we tend to feel a bit better going to work or buying a product or service when we know there’s a greater reason for being behind it. It’s often a deciding factor between choosing one brand or company over another. What is new, though, is that the world we live and work in today calls for even more of a spotlight on purpose.
According to a 2021 McKinsey study, nearly 70% of employees are reflecting on purpose because of the pandemic. And, based on a PwC survey, 83% of employees rated “meaning in day-to-day work” as important to them. This has a downstream impact on hiring, morale, retention, and performance.
Your purpose statement is the foundation for how you can attract and retain talent, differentiate your culture, accelerate performance in a competitive, crowded marketplace, and re-energize employees who may be fatigued, apathetic, or skeptical.
The same McKinsey study found that employees who say that they live their purpose at work are:
- 6.5 times more likely to report higher resilience,
- 4 times more likely to report better health,
- 6 times more likely to want to stay at the company, and
- 1.5 times more likely to go above and beyond to contribute to the company (which is the employee engagement outcome many leaders and teams try to achieve).
For these reasons and more, our team believes that every organization should have a purpose statement and should know how to use it to tell your story on the inside and out for business impact so employees, customers, investors, shareholders, potential employees, and customers, and your many other stakeholders and partners see that they have a place in your company’s purpose.
What the Purpose Statement Is
A company purpose statement is its reason for being. It should answer these questions: Why do we exist beyond making money? What would the world lose if we didn’t exist? It goes beyond who you are and what you do. It’s your why and the impact your organization has on others.
Here are six characteristics of great purpose statements:
- Articulate the movement they’re ultimately championing and/or why the company is on the journey they are
- Are grand and aspirational while also believable
- Are differentiated so when viewed together with the mission, vision, and values of your company they are unique to your organization
- Are specific and create clarity, so they mean something to your company
- Are memorable and repeatable
- Have a tone and content that reflects the culture of the organization and fits them like a glove
Done right, company purpose statements are an important aspect of decision-making inside an organization so that it’s consistent with the company’s purpose.
10 Company Purpose Statement Examples
Here are 10 purpose statement examples across a variety of industries with a few thoughts on what makes them strong:
- AT&T: We create connection.
This is both aspirational and ties to the company and its products and services over the years – which makes it believable. While it isn’t specific to a product, it creates clarity about what the company sees as its ultimate reason for being – to create connection. This is what we mean by “fitting like a glove”.
- Charles Schwab Corporation: To champion every client's goals with passion and integrity.
It speaks to the larger reason for being a company in the financial services industry. It is specific to the movement it focuses on (championing clients’ goals) and it reflects the culture of the organization (passion and integrity). It’s both aspirational and believable.
- CVS Health: Bringing our heart to every moment of your health™
This captures the essence of the company’s focus around people’s lives and health. It’s memorable and repeatable and is used as a tagline. It ties in its brand as well (the heart), which also speaks to company culture and its intended service experience.
- Kellogg’s: Creating better days and a place at the table for everyone through our trusted food brands.
You see the statement, company name, think of the products, and know that they go hand in hand. It speaks to the movement the company is championing (better days and a place at the table for everyone). It is grand and aspirational while also being believable. It’s specific and speaks to its industry (trusted food brand).
- Ford Motor Company: To help build a better world, where every person is free to move and pursue their dreams.
This is grand and aspirational as well as entirely believable. If you run the screen of “what would be at risk if the company didn’t exist?” the mind goes to images of people not being able to get to their jobs, school, to travel, and be where they want to be. In reading this purpose statement, you learn quite a bit about the company and what it stands for (build a better world, be free to move, help people pursue their dreams).
- Virgin Atlantic: Everyone can take on the world.
It speaks to the culture of the company, is easy to remember, and is memorable. It’s aspirational and yet feels believable in the sense that its products and services actually help people “take on the world”. There’s a swagger to this phrase that exudes confidence, feels empowering, and feels right at home with the brand. When you see this purpose statement and think about the company and what it’s all about, you can see (and almost feel) how they belong together.
- McDonald’s: To feed and foster communities.
It’s memorable, repeatable, and naturally ties to the business it is in. It also signals in a believable way that its aspirations go beyond food and are also about building communities.
- NIKE: To move the world forward through the power of sport.
It’s clear, easy to remember, and specific to the business. You know the industry right away which helps differentiate them (power of sport). It’s aspirational (moving the world forward) and also believable. When you read the purpose statement, you can visualize the essence of the company and its products that help people move.
- Novartis: To reimagine medicine to improve and extend people's lives.
It’s specific to the industry (healthcare) and speaks to why the company exists (reimagine medicine) and its higher level reason for being (improve and extend people’s lives). It’s clear and easy to remember.
- Kroger: To feed the human spirit™
This speaks to its industry and focus as a business (food). It’s easy to remember and repeat, reading like a slogan. It’s also aspirational in that it speaks to feeding more than the “person” but also the “human spirit”.
How a Purpose Statement Fits Into Your Company’s Mission, Vision, and Values
Purpose is one of several elements of your organization’s DNA that make your company uniquely you. Together, these define who you are as a company and what you stand for. They serve as your North Star for your business – what you do, why you do it, and how you do it.
- Purpose statement: An organization’s reason for being (beyond making a profit) and how the products/services benefit people. It answers the questions for your customers and employees: why do we exist and what would the world lose if we didn’t exist? It has an external focus and remains constant over time. Purpose statements could be centered on society, customers, or community. All the other elements of the DNA tie back to the purpose statement.
- Mission statement: The mission states what the company will do to realize its business purpose. It comes from the perspective of inside the organization. The key elements to the mission statement are that it states the type of business/work you do today, is forward-looking, and speaks to your capabilities. It focuses on what you do and how you do it. A mission statement guides decision-making and informs business strategy, and it could evolve over time while your organization’s purpose remains the same.
- Vision statement: Paints a picture of what our company’s future looks like if we’re successful. It answers the question. It’s a statement of where the organization is heading. It’s future-oriented and aspirational. It’s also connected to the hearts and minds of people and captures hopes and dreams.
- Values and behaviors: These make up the desired ways of work (or culture) that employees need to live to advance the purpose, mission, and vision. Values describe the principles that are expected of employees, and behaviors are the tangible, observable, measurable elements that can be implemented. Both values and behaviors are intended to help employees know what’s expected of them and to guide how they show up at work. They define the company’s culture and personality, and answer the question: What does our company look like in action? Values and behaviors can happen in pockets but are aspirational for others.
Put another way…
- The purpose GUIDES you.
- The mission FOCUSES you.
- The vision INSPIRES you.
- The values ALIGN you.
- The behaviors MEASURE you.
These elements of a company’s DNA form a strategic framework that helps employees know what matters most for the organization, and how day-to-day business plans and tasks fit into the larger whole and greater good. It’s also an important way for employees to see how their sense of purpose fits (or doesn’t) with the place they work.
It’s like a stack of jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together to form a cohesive picture for everyone to see and share in common.
How to Know When You Need to Update Your Purpose Statement
Because the purpose statement guides your company, it’s important to regularly calibrate between your purpose statement and changing dynamics to ensure they stay connected in all the right ways. Here are some defining moments in a company that signal when it’s time to review your purpose statement and determine whether it’s time to update it:
- New CEO / leadership team: With new leadership comes new perspective on the business. It’s a time when leaders are evaluating the business, weighing options, and setting new directions for the company that will make an impact. It’s important to also evaluate the purpose statement of the company and line it up.
- Merger and/or acquisition: This is a major change to your company that warrants a calibration to your purpose statement (and mission, vision, and values) as new entities, teams, products, and services are at play. It’s a good time to evaluate whether the purpose statement remains true to the company in its new state. At a minimum, it’s critical to drive awareness of your company’s purpose with employees, customers, and other stakeholders so they fully understand and appreciate it.
- New strategy: Purpose statements and company strategy must go hand in hand so if your company has a new strategy (or is working on a new strategy), check that the purpose statement is still consistent and relevant.
- Significant transformation: Congruency between the company’s purpose and actions is essential. When big changes are happening in a company it’s key to calibrate so the transformation efforts continue to sync and support the company’s purpose and strategic direction. And, if the transformation is changing direction for a company, then the purpose statement (and mission, vision, and values) may need to evolve.
- Recruitment, retention issues, or other people-related issues: More than ever, employees want to work for companies that share a common sense of purpose and values. If your organization is struggling to recruit and retain employees, check your purpose statement and see if it’s as relevant and compelling as it needs to be.
- Heightened competition: Employees, customers, and investors look for differentiation and companies with an edge. Your purpose statement says a lot about your company – who you are, what you stand for, why you exist, and what’s at risk if you’re not there. When competition is fierce, it’s time to look at your purpose statement to see if it defines you accurately, speaks to your aspirations, and helps you stand out.
- Annual strategic planning: Make it a habit to check your purpose statement (along with your vision, mission, and values) annually in the context of your company’s strategic planning, so the most important elements of your organization guide decision-making for key priorities and plans for the year. It’s the ultimate litmus test to see that priorities and plans support your company’s purpose statement (and overall DNA). And, if they don’t line up, to have strategic conversations about what’s changing and why and whether it warrants updating your purpose statement.
How to Write a Purpose Statement
Apply these principles as you consider your approach to developing your company’s purpose statement:
- Make it a strategic business exercise – that sets the direction for your vision, mission, values, and strategy and is the foundation for how people know you as a company. Keep it from being a word-smithing exercise.
- Be intentional – Dig deep to understand the origin of the company and follow that thread through to who you are today, and why you will continue to exist in the future.
- Let leaders set the tone and involve others with purpose – The purpose statement should be shaped by the leadership team and key influencers in the company and then vetted and fine-tuned with employees so that they have shared meaning and ownership. This is bigger than any one person or team writing the purpose statement.
- Iterate – Work a smart process and let the process work so as people’s thinking evolves, the purpose statement captures it.
- Connect to your culture – Let the essence of your culture come through in how you describe the essence of your company.
- Go beyond the ordinary – If you lined up your purpose statement with others in your industry (or even other industries), check that it stands out from the rest.
- Have a plan – This is how you’re going to create the purpose statement and what you’ll do to introduce it to your key stakeholders inside and outside the company.
Steps to Writing Your Purpose Statement
Whether creating a purpose statement from scratch or refreshing an existing one, follow these steps to guide you. How you approach writing your purpose statement may vary depending on where you are as an organization, your starting point, and your culture.
Compare your current purpose statement with how your organization shows up in internal and external artifacts to see what’s consistent and what’s not.
Ask: What’s similar and what’s different that we should consider for the new purpose statement?
- Develop Your Roadmap
Determine your plan of action to get to a purpose statement that your organization is fully aligned around.
Ask: What are the key steps and milestones to drive toward?
- Identify Your Stakeholders and Engagement Plan
Map your plan for who and how you’ll engage people from across your organization in the process. Consider who your champions will be, who will be hands-on in co-creation, and who you want to involve along the way to preview or test concepts. If there are many stakeholders, consider a working group or committee of representatives to advance the work in a more manageable way. And then involve others to preview and test the committee’s work.
Ask: When the purpose statement is drafted, who do we need to have on board so they support it and what’s the best way to get those people involved?
- Conduct Stakeholder Listening
Based on your engagement plan, hold listening sessions with key stakeholders to understand their thoughts on the business and how that translates to the company’s purpose. Summarize what you’re hearing.
Ask: What are the common themes and where are there different points of view that warrant more conversation and alignment?
- Co-create the Purpose Statement
Gather all the key stakeholders to co-create the purpose statement together in a hands-on, interactive way. Have a facilitator lead the session and leverage all the work done in Steps 1 through 4. You can walk out with a solid draft of the purpose statement that the group is aligned around and that’s ready to test drive with others.
Ask: Do we have a purpose statement that we all understand, believe in, and can champion?
- Test the Purpose Statement
Involve other stakeholders for input and buy-in. Get the draft purpose statement in front of employee groups and see what they say. You can also have key groups of leaders and working group members test drive the purpose statement with their teams.
Ask: What resonates, where is further clarification needed, and in what ways do we see this purpose statement being lived in the company?
- Discuss and Refine the Purpose Statement
Use the learnings as fodder for discussion with your core working group and champions about what changes to make in the purpose statement and to inform your communications before you revise and finalize the purpose statement.
Ask: What feedback warrants changes to the purpose statement? What concepts will require more communication to help people understand?
Key Learnings from Developing Purpose Statements
We’ve worked with many clients to create their purpose statement (and their mission, vision, and values as well). Here are four things to keep in mind:
- The process is as important as the statement – How you engage people and bring them along on the journey is just as important as what the final words are of your company’s purpose statement. You need a purpose statement that will guide the company – and its people – for years to come and that requires involvement from people.
- Involve skeptics – Some may think of this work as a word-smithing activity or that culminates in posters that no one ever reads. To those people, we say … let’s get you involved in this process so we can make sure that doesn’t happen. Build a plan that is skeptic-proof. I’ve heard from many leaders as they go through this process that they were skeptical about this work at first and then became the biggest advocates of the purpose statement they created and the process that was taken to build it.
- Avoid shortcuts that may cause shortcomings – On paper, a purpose statement is just a few words but getting a room full of people (let alone a whole company) to align around the meaning behind the words looks easier than it is. We believe in a “go slow to go fast” approach that by working a smart process you’ll get to a better outcome faster and that will have lasting power. Watch out for shortcuts that can cause shortcomings – for example, skipping listening or testing may save a few days, but you lose out on important insights and cut people out of being involved who could have become champions.
- Embrace input – It can be nerve-wracking to draft a purpose statement and then take it to pockets of the organization for input not knowing if it will be liked or overhauled. However, it’s better to bring people along on the journey and get input before things are finalized for prime time. In addition, when people are engaged earlier, they tend to be more positive. We worked with a client to preview their company’s DNA (including the purpose statement) with more than 1,000 people. The reception was extremely positive and where there was feedback, it was hugely helpful. Most importantly, when it came time to roll out the final content, people were on board and ready to champion it because they had been a part of the process.
You’ve Crafted Your Purpose Statement – Now What?
Having a clear purpose statement is a big step to celebrate. It’s also just the beginning as you think about how to embed it into the organization. Consider these next steps:
- Define your terms – A purpose statement is just a few words, but every single word matters and needs to mean something. Have specific definitions for each word so people in your organization know what it means and use the terms consistently.
- Align the rest of the strategy to the purpose statement – The purpose statement anchors many other components of your company’s strategic framework so everything needs to ladder back to it, including the mission, vision, values, culture, business plans and priorities, and KPIs and metrics. Identify where there are connections to make and/or disconnects to address. Create a strategic framework that shows visually how all the pieces connect together.
- Plan the rollout and activation – Have a plan for how to communicate the company’s purpose across the organization. Think of it in terms of launching, activating, and sustaining so you can embed the purpose in how people think and work. Make it part of the everyday storytelling inside and outside the company. This takes time, consistency across voices and channels, and purposeful communication.
Case Study: A Purpose-Driven Function
We worked recently with a large function in a global organization through these steps. The function originally needed help to roll out and embed their new strategy to its 7,500 employees, but early on it became clear that before employees could align around a strategy, they first needed to come together with one shared purpose. Working these steps led to many defining moments, including:
- During discovery, an employee survey led to useful insights that guided the leadership team’s focus and helped them address some opportunities, and it served as a follow-up loop for communicating the purpose and strategy.
- Leader listening uncovered a wide range of perspectives on the organization’s purpose and path forward. This was critical to uncover early on, so the work to follow could bridge the gaps and bring the leaders together as one aligned team.
- The process of co-creating the purpose statement worked. It got some grumbles at first. “Really, we need to break up into groups and do flip chart exercises?” Yes... and did they ever rise to the occasion. In a few short hours, the group co-created a purpose statement and started using it in the same meeting to make some critical business decisions. It was an instant payoff and the leadership team knew it. They later described that as a defining moment for their leadership team and their company.
- Leaders played an active role in talking about the purpose statement with their teams and ensuring a common understanding of the meaning of each element of the purpose.
- Next-level leaders (directors and above in this case) became immersed in their purpose, mission, vision, values, and strategy at an offsite meeting where every moment of the day was designed purposefully to bring the company’s DNA to life in ways that made it real, relevant, and actionable for them, so they could take the same experience and energy back to their teams to get them grounded in it.
- The purpose statement took on a life of its own as leaders enrolled their teams in it. They held rallies, decorated their sites with signage, gave employees swag, made it part of everyday conversation, and even got teams writing songs about the purpose statement. It took hold because people got inspired and excited about it.
To learn how we helped another organization define its new DNA following a merger of equals, check out this case study.
Be purposeful when creating your company’s purpose statement so that it’s strategic, you have organizational buy-in, and it’s tied to business goals for the best outcome. Follow these steps so that your organization has a purpose statement that effortlessly describes why you exist and guides your company for the future in a way that sets you apart, and that employees, customers, and other key stakeholders know and believe in.
As you reflect on your company’s purpose statement, would it benefit from being updated?
This quick guide covers a methodology you can use to co-create your purpose statement and maximize leader and employee buy-in. Download Maximizing Strategy Development & Rollout with Top Leaders today!
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