Three Types of Purpose

Three types of Purpose

I’ve talked a lot in previous posts about the importance of vision and mission. There is another term in the same arena that is becoming more and more popular. It is purpose, and for me it is synonymous with mission. It is what we are here to do, our underlying reason for being. But is purpose a passing fad?

I don’t think so. Purpose is fundamental for any organization. The clearer you are about your purpose, the more likely you are to harness its benefit. Many companies struggle to define their purpose. They often aim to define a worthy purpose that describes the company as doing good. For example, Toms model of donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. Purpose doesn’t have to be tied to doing good. This is the central point of an excellent article in the March/April 2022 edition of HBR. The authors talk about ‘What is the Purpose of Your Purpose?’

Three Types of Purpose

The article describes three types of purpose and I’ve added examples of each:

  • Cause Based – Patagonia who are in business to save our planet.
  • Competency based – BMW creates the Ultimate Driving Machine. They are focused on functional expertise, in this case engineering and product excellence.
  • Culture based – Nordstrom who set the bar for Customer Orientation. This type embodies a way of doing business.

These three types reduce the tendency to focus on doing good and instead, better describe the purpose that best defines your organization. Having a clear purpose sets out a beacon that guides everyone in the organization. It outlines what is most important.

You have to live your purpose!

Once you declare a purpose, you have to live it! I have seen too many purpose statements that sound great but obviously aren’t being role modeled by the leaders in the organization. If you aren’t serious about holding yourselves to a purpose, I recommend you don’t bother. But I hope you recognize the value of a strong a consistent purpose.

Think about brands that you trust, this is a good sign they are living their purpose. What companies or brands do you admire and what is it about them that you admire? That’s probably tied to the purpose.

Comments (6)

Andy, great insight — as always. BUT, to me this was much to broad and didn’t really hit the empowerment that a true PURPOSE can provide. For example, I’m volunteering in a lab at the UW where my purpose is to help accelerate their fight against Polycystic Kidney Disease. IMHO, purpose needs to be specific, focused, and measurable.

That’s true Randy, the article didn’t get into the benefits of purpose and why it is so important. Using the authors model, you are following a cause based purpose, and I know how important and motivating this is for you. Let’s say you work at BMW, you won’t have a cause based purpose and rather than try to invent one, they’ve settled on a competency based one.

I liked this point because too many companies try to say they are saving the planet when they aren’t, and that’s ok.

Good job Andy. I’m with Randy, purpose needs to be specific. Though I am less bothered about measurable.

For organisations and teams, to me, its about rediscovering their purpose. Their purpose was there before they came into existence, it’s why they came into existence.

Totally agree Dave, it has to be specific and meaningful. I like your point, it’s why they came into existence, what they are here to do.

Nice piece Andy. When it comes to internal aspects of our way of being, such as purpose, it seems to me that they are also values-based. So in conversations about them, I find that analysis and definition matter less than the provocation to reflect, which you have done admirably here.

For me, mission is specific, purpose is more general. More like “overall mission”

Hi Phillip, Great points as always. I hadn’t made the direct connection to values before and I see what you mean. The purpose will shape the organizations values.

Specificity is in the language for me. I wouldn’t want purpose to be vague and it is interesting you differentiate mission and purpose. I hadn’t separated them before and you’ve given me food for thought. Are they different? Hmmm…

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