In the health and human service marketplace we talk about the importance of knowing your mission, vision and guiding principles, but often neglect to focus our attention on organizational purpose. How important is an organization’s purpose? The answer is “very important.”
Your organization’s purpose is the fundamental core reason why the organization exists. The purpose of an organization is not the answer to the question “What do you do?” That question typically focuses upon your services, but rather the purpose lies within the answer to the question “Why is the work you do important?” Organizational purpose drives the following:
- Mission: In contrast to your organization’s purpose, your mission describes what business your organization is presently engaged in. Your organizational mission is a path to fulfill your purpose.
- Vision: Your organization’s vision is what the organization intends to become and to achieve at some point in the future, keeping in mind the organization’s central purpose.
- Guiding Principles: Your guiding principles or precepts guide your organization throughout its existence in all circumstances, irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies, type of work, or leadership styles. Your guiding principles assure that your purpose is achieved through the values your organization hold sacred.
Your organizational purpose is the foundation for all of your decisions. Since the purpose is the reason for your organization’s very existence, it serves as a guide upon which all other decisions are rooted. The purpose also affects who your organization exists to serve, where you will place your emphasis, and why your resources are allocated. When you understand your organization’s purpose, it helps:
- Energize, motivate to serve, excite, and provide inspiration to deliver your services.
- Fuel passion, and this passion acts as a catalyst to enliven the feeling of empowerment within your organization.
- When combined with strategy, ignite your organization onto a path of success. Said another way, purpose provides your organization with a reason to be successful.
- When clear, lead to the desire to serve the consumer because this service is central to why you exist.
- Focus organizational resources on specifically designated areas.
- Motivate management to achieve the purpose better than any other entity.
- Leadership to have a healthy respect for competition.
- Facilitates easier identification of other organizations with a similar purpose. Knowing your competition gives your organization an opportunity to strengthen its services to gain competitive advantage and capture more market-share.
- Guide leadership to seek partnerships that enhance their purpose.
Organizations that have a successful history in the marketplace continually evaluate how successful they are in relationship to why they exist. It is easy for leaders to evaluate their financial strength, business expansion, market share, and other benchmarks, but they often overlook how well they are meeting their organization’s purpose. Leaders that understand the importance of purpose will consistently remind their team of why they exist and will celebrate meeting their purpose in the same fashion as meeting strategic goals.
Organizations that recognize and can articulate the importance of their purpose are more apt to be:
- Customer oriented
- More attentive to industry trends and changing customer needs
- More concerned with their brand and marketing their reason for existing
- Know why they must work diligently to be successful
- Attract and retain a workforce that is concerned about working toward an important purpose
- Find passionate board members that are interested in contributing to the accomplishment of purpose
- Successful at fund development and have more community supporters
Statement Of Purpose
To motivate and inspire your supporters, organizations that keep their purpose in mind will craft a “Purpose Statement.” This statement articulates why your organization matters, and why your cause is meaningful. The statement can communicate your value and is geared to reveal what fuels your culture. Purpose Statements are often found in an organization’s bylaws or incorporation papers. This type of statement outlines the reason for existence, but is not necessarily the statement that can and should be used for inspiring people to be involved in your organization.
Sheila Margolis, a consultant, speaker, and author specializing in organizational culture, change management, and employee engagement wrote in her article Purpose of an Organization: “A Purpose Statement should be brief in length yet broad in scope. Make it brief so employees can remember it and use it to guide their daily actions. The Purpose should also be broad in scope to allow the organization to adapt over time to a changing world while its central focus remains constant. Products and services may change, but the organization must endure. Organizations are living entities; they are vehicles for improving life and the world we live in.” Ms. Margolis also gives us criteria to help organizations judge the quality of their Purpose Statement:
- Is it a contribution to society – not a product or service?
- Does it answer the question – Why is this work important?
- Is it inspirational and motivational?
- Does it use powerful words?
- Is it brief in length so employees will remember it?
- Is it broad in scope to allow for future opportunities and change? (See: Purpose Of An Organization)
Examples Of Brief Inspiring Purpose Statements
Here are some examples of purpose statements that meet professional guidelines:
- Homebuilder: We help people achieve their dreams
- Real Estate Group: We make the buying process simple, efficient, and stress free for people buying and selling a property.
- Massage Company: We rejuvenate, revitalize and refresh
- Natural Food Company: We nourish and give energy to life
- Entertainment Company: We make people happy
- Technology Company: We connect people to power and possibilities
- Non-profit Organization: We reduce poverty one family at a time (See: Purpose Of An Organization)
Connecting Others To Your Organization
As a result of consistently voicing your purpose, all people attached to your organization will connect more deeply with your organization’s mission and vision statements. When community supporters meaningfully connect with your purpose, they can easily believe in your mission. As I outlined above, purpose is the foundation of mission and vision, and stressing your purpose speaks to the hearts of similarly minded people. When these people align with your organization’s purpose, they become part of the organizational journey by giving a multitude of support for your efforts. Inspiration is the pervasive feeling that occurs and builds continuous, long-lasting support.
In our present health and human service marketplace, I believe it is important for all organizations to recognize the importance of being able to articulate their purpose. I suggest executives that have not focused on the purpose of their organization’s existence bring this topic to their leadership teams and boards for discussion. I think that the purpose of your organization should at least receive the same, if not more, time allotted to discussions of mission, vision, and guiding principles.
Organizations that incorporate their purpose into their employee recruitment and retention practices will find themselves more successful. In addition, marketing efforts and all published materials about your organization should have a statement of purpose that becomes part of your branding. This can help to differentiate your organization from the competition and uniquely position the organization in the marketplace.
To make your case for this focus on purpose remember this: Purpose is why you exist, Mission drives you toward action, Guiding Principles keep you true to your values, and Vision is what you aspire to be.
Let me know how your organization is using your purpose to its advantage and your experience with its ability to inspire and guide your staff.