It’s time to bury mission and vision

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“Our mission is to conduct all of our businesses with four key values in mind: respect, integrity, communication, and excellence. All business dealings must be conducted in an environment that is open and fair.”

Does this sound familiar to you? Feel like you’ve read it before? No wonder. It sounds like just about every corporate mission statement (or is it vision statement?) ever written.

I for one have had enough…and not just because I can’t remember, much less explain, the difference between mission and vision. No, what’s got me riled is the flood of generic mission/vision statements that declare an organization’s intent to “be the best at everything” rather than to achieve something specific and meaningful. I’ve read one too many bloated statements that masquerade as powerful motivators for employees, but either fall on deaf ears (ever know of an employee who could tell you what his organization’s mission/vision is?), or even worse, are contradicted by the organization’s actions (the example cited above was from Enron). Finally, I’ve had enough of the business world accepting so little from something that could—and should—do so much more to drive an organization’s success.

It’s time to bury mission/vision and replace it with something better. Something that’s worth more than the paper it’s written on. Something that inspires employees to genuinely believe in, care about, and commit to the organizations whose success depends on them. Something that motivates them to work smarter, to innovate every day, and to constantly seek ways to contribute to the enterprise.

It’s time for a new standard…it’s time for Purpose.

Purpose is a definitive statement of the difference an organization seeks to make in the world. It is a clear, credible, compelling response to a fundamental question: “Why do we do what we do?” Many of the world’s most successful organizations have unified and activated their employees around Purpose, including Toyota (“grow harmoniously and be a contributing member of the world’s local communities”), 3M (“use science-based innovation to solve real-world needs”), BMW (“engineer sheer driving pleasure”), and Google (“organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful”).

Why have great companies like these embraced Purpose? Because it drives their organizations forward. Specifically, organizations like those mentioned above realize that Purpose can inspire and motivate employees, and that turbo-charged employees…who genuinely believe in what the organization is trying to do…will be unstoppable in contributing to the success of the enterprise. This is not hypothesis. This is fact. Numerous quantitative studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between Purpose and business success. It is more than a feel-good statement of corporate responsibility. Purpose is grounded in the realities of the business: how the organization makes money, what makes it competitive, and what truly inspires its people. If it’s powerfully articulated, and brought to life in word and deed in a way that employees understand and believe in, Purpose will drive businesses forward.

You might think “What about salaries, bonuses, and benefits? Isn’t that more than enough motivation for employees?” While these tangible incentives are certainly valuable, they are limited in their ability to create true long-term commitment and motivation. The greater effectiveness of intrinsic motivators like Purpose—that focus on “the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re part of something important”—is well documented. (For an enlightening look at the power of intrinsic motivators, go to www.ted.com and watch Dan Pink’s presentation on the subject at the 2009 TED conference). Furthermore, when tangible incentives become less compelling—as they have during the most recent global economic meltdown—enduring motivators like Purpose become even more powerful.

The bottom line on the power of Purpose is this: It’s in our nature to be a part of something that’s not only bigger than ourselves, but that we genuinely believe in. If we can satisfy this intrinsic need in our jobs, we will be happier and more productive…and the organizations we work for will benefit. Purpose is where all this can begin…and business leaders in organizations of all shapes and sizes would be well served to find theirs. But first they ought to bury their mission statement.

Or is it their vision statement?

David Srere is co-president, CEO and chief strategy officer.

 

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