There they are, the vision and mission of your organization. Where? In the drawer of the Human Resources manager’s desk.

Someday he said: “We need to set these things up to put on our website.” It was a great effort, that soon vanished into nothing. The phrases were written down and became obsolete as soon as they left the printer.

Those artifacts should serve as a source of inspiration for employees and customers. They should give direction. But “being the biggest and best X in the world” only motivates… the owners of the company.

See this:

Being a great wholesaler of parts and equipment … with good service, excellent quality, competitive price and efficient delivery. Gaining good dividends, chance of development and good quality of life.

What’s wrong with that?

Vision and mission were conceived with a genuine idea in mind. But they were very poorly used by organizations and treated as mere formalism. Now, every time someone mentions these things, boredom and disbelief set in. So, what do we do?

The good news is that there is a new word. It’s called purpose.

Purpose describes the impact that the organization is creating in the lives of the people it serves. Not where the organization is going (vision), nor what it does (mission).

According to Brian Robertson, the purpose is:

The deepest creative potential the organization can sustainably express in the world.

Buurtzorg, a Dutch home care organization, aims to help the sick and the elderly live a more autonomous and meaningful life. It is more than a personal ambition of the owners. It is relevant to the world.

If you already have good descriptions of vision and mission, the purpose may not be so different.

It turns out that many organizations use these artifacts only as formal obligations. They become empty and meaningless. In this sense, the new word can help create a new meaning.

But what I want to do here is that you take the purpose out of the drawer and make it really relevant for your organization.

Purpose-oriented organizations

As we have described in the 3 breakthroughs of organizations of the future, there is a new movement called evolutionary (or responsive) organizations that places purpose at the heart of the organization.

It is not hidden in the drawer. It drives decision making. It is present in strategy, not just in speech.

The purpose is a shared dream. You need to build an organizational culture around it so it gains the relevance you want. A good start may be to modify your recruiting and selection process to get people aligned with it.

If you still do not have a striking sentence of purpose, do not despair. Use the activity below to find it!

Group purpose discovery (60 min)

  1. Gather a group of founders, senior members, partners, directors, or anyone you find relevant in finding the purpose (5-8 people);
  2. In a round, ask each person to answer: “What would be the most incredible thing that we could conquer together, take to the world and that we would consider worth all our dedication?”
  3. Ask each one, individually and in silence, to describe a sentence in a paper that succinctly captures what has been said by all;
  4. As soon as everyone finishes, a volunteer takes a large sheet and copies his sentence on purpose;
  5. From that moment on, everyone should be silent;
  6. Create a timebox of 20-40 minutes for the rest of the activity;
  7. Randomly, any participant can pick up the paper with the phrase described and change it. This participant can completely scratch the phrase and rewrite it or change some parts or words, as long as it becomes more:
    1. Inclusive: to include everything that was verbalized in the previous step;
    2. Memorable: easy to remember;
    3. Succinct: short, few words;
    4. Inspiring;
  8. As soon as the timebox is finished, no further changes can be made;

Activity inspired by Dragon Dreaming’s Circle of Dreams.

Time to throw away the “vision and mission” and build an organization around a big dream.

Oh, just do not leave the purpose in the drawer like it did with your predecessors!

Already have a purpose or did you find it with the above activity? Share with us by commenting below :).