We get this question all the time: If my company has a mission and vision, why do we need a purpose? Our CEO Ashley Grice explains that the key is in understanding the merits and limitations of a mission and vision. Or as we like to say at BrightHouse: Mission is your what, Vision is your where, and Purpose is your why.
Last week over a cocktail, I chatted with a friend who leads a successful IT company. He asked about my work as the CEO of BrightHouse, and what purpose-driven thinking entails. “Can I turn in a friend chit?” he inquired, not wanting to overstep friend-business boundaries while I was downing my Tito’s, but clearly piqued.
Derek relayed that his company paid a marketing firm to draft a mission and vision, but he was sitting on the output. The New Year made him reflective on whether he should roll it out; indeed, his management team had inquired about it, but something was nagging him.
Derek’s firm helps companies make smarter decision about their IT solutions. The company has grown steadily year-over-year since its founding in 2007, expanded globally, and is focused on core competencies. Arguably then, articulating a mission and a vision built on strong performance should be relatively simple. Yet Derek was so uninspired by what his consultants had delivered that he was hiding it under a bushel.
Mission and vision for companies like Derek’s are rational, smart, and staid. They are also vital in that they describe the What and Where of a company. Management feels safe when they have mission and vision on paper, but they aren’t always satisfied for reasons they can’t explain. As such, I get this question a lot: If I have a mission and vision, why do I need a purpose?
BrightHouse believes that while mission and vision are critical to an organization’s health, they often aren’t compelling enough to inspire lasting behavioral change. Mission and vision help management sleep at night because they know they have direction. Yet, purpose gets leaders up in the morning energized about potential.
A clear mission and vision will give your executive team and employees direction and help them feel satisfied. Purpose ignites people’s passions and underscores why the role they play matters. It instills advocacy, not just loyalty, from your employees and customers.
Purpose is your company’s North Star, its raison d’être. The mix of the emotional and rational that comes from understanding how you (yes, you, Derek!) and the company you lead can spark real change in the world. And experience has shown us that once CEOs know the purpose of their company, it burns a hole in their pocket until they do something about it.
In addition, the light of purpose shines on new opportunities not easily observed while treading the usual strategic paths, even if those paths are successful ones. In this way, purpose can help thriving companies avoid a revenue stall by looking at the core business, innovation practices, and talent through an entirely different and wholly inspirational lens.
This week Derek and I are going to take a look at his mission and vision and determine exactly why it disappoints. And while we explore the articulation, I’ll ask him some probing questions about his company, his culture, his legacy, and what the world would lose if his IT firm disappeared tomorrow. Questions that move past the what and the where to the why – his company’s purpose. I am aiming to kindle a little spark, because that’s all it takes to get a fire going, as they say. And when it begins to burn, we’ll fill up our glasses, roll up our sleeves, and begin to excavate his purpose over another round of Tito’s.
 Olsen, Matthew S., van Bever, Derek, and Verry, Seth. When Growth Stalls. (Harvard Business Review, March 2008)