Brooklyn Bridge

Note: This post originally appeared as a LinkedIn article on April 8, 2020

This is the second in a series of articles, lessons really, that are designed to help you deal with the issues brought on by the current COVID-19 crisis AND build and strengthen your organization for afterward when things return to a more settled state.

In Step 1 we discussed Perspective and how it shapes every action we take. As such, it is cross-cutting.

In Step 2, we will discuss your Purpose as the reason for everything you do. It is your rock. As such, it is foundational.

I mention the corona virus throughout these articles. But make no mistake, these principles and practices apply in good times and bad. The reality of 2020 dictates that we address the current situation. But we will not always be battling a pandemic and these principles and practices work just as well during good times as in bad and thank God we have more of the former.

Remember, there is a bias toward action here. Key takeaways and actions are listed at the end. Let’s continue.


The single most important thing organizations can do to achieve 100% of their potential is to have a clearly defined, declared, and operationalized Purpose.

Think about all the organizations that you admire for their performance. I bet every one has a clear Purpose and everyone in it is driven toward that Purpose.

While Perspective is something we have, Purpose is something we live.

The best way for organizations to define and declare their Purpose is through their Mission statements. I’m sure you’ve heard of Vision, Mission, and Values Statements before now. But people often get confused about them. So, before we go on, let’s clarify.

Vision – Your imagined description of what you would like your organization to achieve, accomplish, or become.

Because it is imagined does not mean it is imaginary. On the contrary, it is very real. It represents a state or achievement you want to reach. Thus, it is future-oriented and aspirational. It should be realistic, but a stretch. It should also be clear and inspiring to any stakeholder reading it, not just employees.

Your Vision statement is what you want to be when you grow up. It is intended to guide long-range planning and decision making. Thus, it is essential for high-level prioritization.

Here’s a good example of a clear, concise (8 words), inspiring, future-oriented, aspirational Vision statement:

  • Alzheimer’s Association: A world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.

Mission – If your Vision is your ultimate goal, your Mission is what you do day in and day out to achieve that Vision. It is your Purpose.

Visions are about aspiration. Missions are about action. It’s where you grind it out daily in order to move closer to your Vision.

While Visions are future-oriented, Missions are now-oriented. As such, your Mission becomes the reason for what you do today as an organization. It is why you do what you do.

Missions are executed by your operations. Because they are now-oriented, your Mission statement gives detail to your prioritization by bringing it down to what we’re going to do today. Thus, it is essential for day-to-day decision making. From an operations perspective, it becomes your highest-level work instruction. If employees encounter an unfamiliar situation, they cannot go wrong if they follow the Mission.

Returning to the Alzheimer’s Association example, note how they have turned their Vision into action:

  • Alzheimer’s Association: The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. [emphasis added]

Any Alzheimer’s Association employee should know what their purpose for being there is, i.e., accelerate global research, drive risk reduction and early detection, and maximize quality care and support. If their function isn’t doing those things directly, then they should be supporting someone(s) who is. If they don’t do either, then why are they there?

Values – The moral compass we use to navigate our organization.

Visions are about aspiration, Missions are about action, Values are about how our actions are done. They form the boundaries or guardrails around what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

Visions are future-oriented, Missions are now-oriented, Values are always-oriented.

Common examples of Values include:

  • Honesty;
  • Integrity;
  • Proactivity;
  • Participation;
  • Quality;
  • Leadership;
  • Openness, etc.

While these are all good, I prefer Values statements that use action-oriented words (verbs), since Values are intended to guide our actions (behaviors).

Examples then would include:

  • We are Honest in every interaction with ourselves and others.
  • We operate with Integrity by saying what we do and doing what we say.
  • We delight guests by anticipating their needs in a Proactive manner.

Since they are the boundaries on behaviors, Values help define your organizational culture. Many leaders and managers mistakenly believe that culture is something that naturally occurs within a group or organization. In actuality, your organization’s culture is defined by the worst and best behaviors you allow.

Now that we’re clear on the definitions, how do we establish them and put them in place?

Your Vision, Mission, and Values should be defined by the owners/leaders. No one will know the Purpose of the organization better than the founder or owner or top leader. The key is to get it out of their head and onto paper. The good news here is that this part is more like a 2-hour process than a 2-week process. Get them down on paper, then seek feedback from a cross-section of stakeholders and refine them. Your elapsed time from start to finish should be less than one week.

Many organizational leadership teams have gone on 2- and 3-day retreats to define their Vision, Mission, and Values. And when they come back, they have them printed, framed, and hung in the lobby, the break room, conference rooms, etc. and they feel their job is done. Actually, it is just the beginning. They have to be deployed and put to use. Having your Vision, Mission, and Values is not the goal. Having focus and alignment is the goal. Your Vision, Mission, and Values are how you achieve focus and alignment.

There’s absolutely no reason to have them if you’re not going to use them. In fact, it can be harmful to declare something then act contrary to it. Can you say hypocrite? Loss of trust can rot an organization from the inside out.

My dad always taught me that to do a job right, you have to use the right tools. When deployed, your Vision, Mission, and Values are tools to help you achieve focus and alignment. This is the big “Why?” behind these three tools. So to be useful, these tools need to be communicated, memorized, and used in decision-making.

Without focus and alignment, everyone will be aiming at separate points. Rather than pulling together, they are tugging against one another, all with good intentions. Each one headed in the direction they think is best based on what they know.

So, ensure they know what you want and need them to know through effective deployment:

  • Keep them short and simple. They need to be memorized in order to be used on the fly.
  • Make sure they are clear. Clarity is kindness. By being clear, you are helping your team know exactly what they are to do and how to do it. Your team will always appreciate when uncertainty is taken out.
  • Make sure the “Why?” is clear. You get better buy-in when people understand why.

Once deployed, then reinforce them every chance you get. That may mean starting every meeting with a discussion or recitation of the Mission, or discussion of a Value. It also means that leadership has to role model them as well. Some organizations print them out on cards that employees carry, or attach to their badges.

You also need to keep them current. Review and revise (if necessary) periodically to ensure they are still relevant. This is usually done annually during strategic planning.

For some of us, this Corona virus infected season may cause us to re-examine our Purpose and change to something more in alignment with near-term survival than long-term goals and Visions. If so, call it a Temporary Vision, or a Rallying Cry, or something similar so that you get the near-term focus you need and can return to your longer-term Vision when appropriate.

We see this happening all over the US right now with clothing manufacturers pivoting to making masks, and auto manufacturers pivoting to making ventilators. For this, we are all grateful. Will they be doing that forever? Probably not. But they understand that by contributing to defeating the enemy they can keep their enterprise going and get back to their long-term Purpose sooner.

There perhaps has never been a more important time for your organization to be a cohesive team. Whether you are pivoting now or not, your Purpose, like a lighthouse, doesn’t calm the wind or waves, but it does point the way. Through the sea spray or the fog of war, that steady, unmoving beacon lends stability to your efforts. It gives strength to your determination and resolve. And when others see your determination and resolve, it will give strength to their determination and resolve.

In this virus season, you may not know all the steps to get there. But by focusing on your Purpose, you will know the next one or two. After taking them, you’ll know if they’re helping or not and determine the next one or two, etc. So, keeping your eyes on your Vision and Mission and operating within your Values, will lend stability to your organization. Something which we all need right now.

Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

Note to start-ups: Don’t skip over the establishment of your Vision, Mission, and Values. You may feel urgency to get things done, and these things can wait. But without a firm foundation, you can only build so high and weather storms so strong. These key elements will need to be part of your formal business plan. Your investors will want to see them. Just as importantly from an operations perspective, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to get everyone aligned. So it’s best to start from the beginning.

Key takeaways

First: The single most important thing organizations can do to achieve 100% of their potential is to have a clearly defined, declared, and operationalized Purpose.

Second: Visions are about what we want our organization to become or achieve. Missions are about the actions we take to achieve the Vision. Values are about how we conduct ourselves while executing the Mission.

Third: Your Mission is your Purpose. It is why you do what you do. Make sure that everything you do is aligned behind your Mission.

Fourth: Ensuring that everyone associated with your organization understands your Purpose enables organization-wide focus and alignment. When everyone understands your Purpose and is pulling in the same direction, you get synergy and harmony in your operations. You also enable proper prioritization as well as strengthen your determination.

Fifth: During this virus-tainted season, you may need to change your Mission to something more survival-oriented. Make sure you communicate the temporary nature of this change loudly and clearly to everyone involved.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have we defined our Vision, Mission, Values? Are they clear, concise, easily memorized?
  2. Have we deployed them to all concerned? Does everyone know what they are? Are they in use?
  3. Are the leaders reinforcing them?
  4. Bonus: Have you thought about a Mission for your family? Do you set family goals?

Steps to take:

  1. If you do not have Vision, Mission, and Values statements, develop them now.
  2. If you do have Vision, Mission, and Values statements, review and revise them, if necessary. Make sure they are clear, concise, easily memorized, easily actualized.
  3. Review all of your policies, practices, and processes to ensure they are aligned behind the Mission. If not, fix them or eliminate them (as long as the government or a regulatory body doesn’t require them!).
  4. Make sure that everyone in your organization knows the Purpose and how they contribute to the achievement of the Purpose. Start with your leadership team. If they don’t know them, what are the chances that the rest of your organization knows them?
  5. If you are pivoting during this time of virus-induced economic crisis develop a new temporary Rallying Cry and deploy it, ensuring that everyone knows what and why. Revert back as soon as practicable.
  6. Bonus: Develop a Mission for your family/personal life.
Categories: Purpose