In “Five Rules for Fostering Motivation at Work” I put forth a basic framework for fostering a motivating organizational culture. The cornerstone of any motivating culture is a compelling purpose underlying that organization’s existence. Clarity of purpose creates shared identity across a company.
Many leaders can effectively articulate the "what" and the "how" of their business. But far fewer communicate the "why." This article outlines four essential elements of a compelling purpose statement useful to managers in communicating purpose at any level of the organization.
The purpose statement should be based on the true values of the organization’s leadership. Leaders throughout the organization must be willing to role model the purpose of the organization for their followers. Leaders do this through the decisions they make and the behaviors they reward. When leaders behave in a way that is contradictory to the purpose statement, the statement will be viewed as disingenuous and lose its motivational power. Put simply, if you aren’t willing to live it, don’t state it.
A purpose statement should tell the organization’s people what to work toward. The purpose should be the basis for goal setting and decision making. When a purpose does not dictate action it will fail to guide people’s behavior. This may mean that a manager will need to adapt or translate the organization’s purpose so that it clearly dictates action for their work team.
A purpose statement should provide meaning for the work of the organization. The purpose statement should attract those who the organization seeks to hire and motivate those it asks to execute its strategy. When people find meaning in their work they are more likely to be motivated, committed, and satisfied. The purpose statement should answer the “Why” question for people.
Vague doesn’t motivate! For the purpose to be motivational it must be clearly understood by the people of the organization. It should be simply stated and brief. It should highlight only that which is core to the organization and avoid focusing on secondary issues. When the purpose is clear to people they are more likely to understand how they can contribute.
Consider The American Red Cross' mission statement: “To prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” Who couldn't get behind that cause! Not every organization will have such a noble objective, but mission statements should excite employees to make the mission statement a reality.
A purpose or mission statement that I believe meets these criteria is:
“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
This statement clearly states why Google exists and what it seeks to do, is meaningful, and thus, motivational to the type of person Google seeks to employ, and based on this outsider’s perspective is role modeled by the leaders of the organization. It is not surprising that many of Google’s breakthroughs toward the execution of this purpose come from the ideas and efforts of their people rather than through organizational initiatives.
Other notable purpose statements include:
“Democratize the automobile.” - Ford in the early 1900s
“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” - Amazon.com
“To reinvent the future.” -Apple
“To help bring creative projects to life.” - Kickstarter