The Power of Meaningful Purpose

Meaningful purpose is a core characteristic of extraordinary organizations. It bonds groups together and ignites passion that can deliver extraordinary results.

Organizations with meaningful purpose play to win and care about results. They know their work has meaning and that they can make a difference by achieving their goals.

We know meaningful purpose when we see it. Apollo 11’s mission to “perform manned lunar landing and return mission safely”, Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, Nelson Mandela’s mission to “End Apartheid” and Abraham Lincoln’s mission to “Preserve the Nation” all communicate simple, powerful and meaningful purpose.

While a great, short mission to change the world is exciting, it is not always easy to find a mission that is applicable to the company making or selling something basic. How can you have meaningful purpose if you sell groceries, stocks and bonds, cars, clothing and other such ordinary stuff?

It may not be easy, but it is doable.

In the grocery business:

Trader Joe’s mission is to bring our customers the best food and beverage values and the information to make informed buying decisions. There are more than 2000 unique grocery items in our label, all at honest everyday low prices. We work hard at buying things right: Our buyers travel the world searching for new items and we work with a variety of suppliers who make interesting products for us, many of them exclusive to Trader Joe’s. All our private label products have their own “angle,” i.e., vegetarian, Kosher, organic or just plain decadent, and all have minimally processed ingredients.

In financial services:

Charles R. Schwab founded this firm with a clear mission: to empower individual investors to take control of their financial lives, free from the high costs and conflicts of traditional brokerage firms.

In the car business:

Through “Monozukuri – manufacturing of value – added products” and “technological innovation,” Toyota is aiming to help create a more prosperous society. To realize this, we are challenging the below themes.

  1. Be a driving force in global regeneration by implementing the most advanced environmental technologies.
  2. Creating automobiles and a motorized society in which people can live safely, securely and comfortably.
  3. Promote the appeal of cars throughout the world and realize a large increase in the number of Toyota fans.
  4. Be a truly global company that is trusted and respected by all peoples around the world.

In the airline business:

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

In the hotel business:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is
our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

In the coffee business:

Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.

And I’m sure it’s doable in your industry as well.

While these missions benefit from being short and results oriented, it is their genuineness and authenticity that seems to make them real. When I think of these organizations, I feel a high degree of fit between the mission and the experience. It is in this genuineness and authenticity that the passion of purpose is found.

Warren Bennis, the leadership expert, characterizes this sense of purpose within great groups as being like a mission from God. It’s a mission that is important, uniquely yours, serves a higher purpose and must be done.

It is this sense of purpose, this why we are here, doing this thing that we do, that matters so much to us and to our employees. While money can motivate us for the short term, it is meaningful purpose that motivates us for the long term.

Action items to find your organization’s meaningful purpose

  • Define your purpose first, then worry about your company’s purpose. If the two aren’t aligned it’s not going to work.
  • Use a cross section of the company to help define the purpose, not just the top team
  • Define your organization’s core value added – what is it that makes you different, unique in offering what you do and why is that valuable to the customer
  • Focus on getting to the flat statement. The flat statement is your mission without the spin, it may not be sexy, but it’s completely true and honest.
  • Don’t try to make the purpose statement carry all the weight of the five year vision or the values and principles of the organization. There’s room for them elsewhere.
  • Decide together, but don’t write together. Statements written by groups turn into “blah, blah, blah” statements. You need a good writer who is able to produce good options for the group
  • Most importantly, make sure it is simple, understandable and authentic.

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