Keys to Developing a Great Purpose Statement
Creating a compelling purpose statement is both an exciting and daunting task.
Creating a compelling purpose statement is both an exciting and daunting task. There is so much potential in what this phrase can do to move your organization forward. So, getting it right takes on added weight.
We invite you to take the pressure off of yourself, and prepare well for your purpose-development process by staying aware of common hurdles that most organizations face as they create this statement. Hopefully, with this arsenal of information, you can come through this process with a resonant purpose statement that all of your leaders feel passionate about and excited to enact at your organization.
Gathering – Who should participate?
It’s imperative that the right people are part of the purpose statement development process. Who are the “right” people to have present? Just the Executives? Do VPs or higher-level managers get involved? Do you want representatives from the front lines who have deep knowledge of what the organization does?
Our advice: keep the group to less than 10 people, preferably just your executives and, maybe, VP-level team members. These are the folks who will guide the purpose of the organization and who will make decisions that impact your “why” on a daily basis. Other groups can certainly be introduced to the concepts later with a thoughtful launch and implementation plan. To start with your executives, you follow an inside-out approach that unifies and charges up leadership first so they can champion the direction with the rest of the organization.
Scheduling – How much time do we need?
Developing a purpose statement takes a significant amount of time. Know that there needs to be ample meeting space to have these important conversations, and it’s imperative to get the schedule of events right from the start. It can be difficult to make this happen because leadership teams are notorious for having booked calendars. This can delay the start of the project, or drag it out, as you work to ensure everyone is part of the process from start to finish.
We suggest having a project manager or administrator who runs all the scheduling and correspondence for your group. In terms of scheduling time to meet, you may run this in a variety of ways. Perhaps, you do initial brainstorming all together, then go off on your own to think, and come back again for more discussion. Perhaps you elect a leader (or two) for the project, who does most of the devising and shaping of the statement, while everyone else mostly contributes their ideas. Either way, determine a schedule that will work best with your team and do all you can to schedule your events at once to ensure forward momentum.
Advancing the Conversation – How do we push past “the same ol’ same ol’?”
Purpose is a new idea for many executives, and it can be hard to wrap their heads around just what is being discussed in these sessions. Often, these individuals use the same stories and vocabulary to talk about the business. It can be very hard to get people out of this habit and into a new way of thinking about and talking about the organization. Roadblocks come up out of frustration or inability to move past this old vocabulary, usually centered around what the business does, and into a more expansive story around why the business exists.
The easiest fix for these hang-ups is to allow ample time for conversations to unfold. This relates to scheduling, in the section above, in that getting a cadence of meetings and conversations just right will help advance the conversation. Not only is time in the room important, but so are breaks! Breaks allow people to digest and move their thinking forward; to form new ideas. In a world where productivity and burnout reign supreme, see what can happen when you slow things down and free things up. Perhaps you’ll come to the perfect purpose statement. No pushing required!
Keeping it Brief -–Too many words
When in the room, it may come out that executives want the purpose statement to meet many goals at once. More often than not, these days it’s about including ESG language in the statement. But we’ve experienced other ideas or visions leaders seem to think are important in the purpose. If a team goes down the path of incorporating all of this into one statement, it can lead to a lengthy and vague statement that doesn’t do its intended job. Or even really state what the organization’s purpose is.
If the team seems to want a statement that meets a great many needs, and things are getting lengthy, focus on a singular idea. You need to help the team whittle down anything extraneous to a purpose. See if you can state what you want for the world in six words or less. If you can, you probably have a pithy statement that will resonate. If not, keep delineating what each idea is and discuss whether it’s really the purpose you all seek to live out, or just a goal that helps you meet that purpose in the world.
In this process, wordsmithing a purpose statement can seriously stall things out. Of course, the words in the statement need to be right. But at the beginning of the process, focusing on the words prevents the team from actually defining the purpose. It keeps them in the world, usually, of trying to describe what the business does or how it works, rather than why it exists.
There are many focuses a purpose statement can have, and your team may have many ideas around why the organization exists. It’s important that they are all aligned at an intention-level first before any wordsmithing begins. Can people get behind it? Is it truly the direction you want to go together? If the direction is correct, then the word fiddling can begin. But if the purpose feels wholly unaligned to who you are and what you stand for, it’s important to get back to the board of sticky notes and bullet points, and see where you really want to plant your flag.
Finally, one of the sticking points is determining just who approves the statement. Each person involved will have their own viewpoint, their own bias; their own interpretation of words and language. If each person in the creation group is also endowed with decision-making power, you could potentially be weeks, even years, extra in decision-making. The group may continue circling a point, but never really land.
Make it clear from the beginning how the purpose will be created and decided upon. In our experience, it’s best to have the CEO, President or Executive Director approving these statements. They can coalesce all the feedback and make the choice to address the most pertinent remarks. With their blessing, the statement can then be reshared with the rest of the executive team, and brought on board with storytelling or engagement exercises.
Creating a purpose statement is not an easy task. It takes time, patience, and a whole lot of effort to not only gather the right group, but to get them to have the right kinds of conversations that lead to a dynamic purpose statement. We hope that by illuminating these common hurdles, you can create a purpose on your own quickly and smoothly. And if it all seems like too much, but you still see developing purpose as a priority, we can certainly support your team in reaching its goal through our Foundational Statement Discovery work. Either way, we hope your process leads to a resonant purpose statement that all of your leaders feel passionate about and excited to enact at your organization.
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash
Savage Brands believes in unleashing the good inherent within all organizations. Business results are driven by connecting with people at the belief level. That’s why we align everything a company says and does with its Purpose through a proven process that links strategy and execution with “why.” We solve the challenges corporate America faces by building tribal loyalty from the inside out, focusing on people first to deliver authentic brand experiences. Savage builds purposeful brands, communications, leaders and cultures.