Got Purpose?

A popular advertising campaign has celebrities and sports stars smiling into the camera with a wide, white mustache on their upper lips with the heading, “Got milk?”  The same question can be asked of corporate purpose – have you got purpose?  Two questions need to be addressed: what is a corporate purpose, and why is clarifying your corporate purpose so vital?
Here is how I answer these two critical questions as excerpted from my book, “Corporate Excellence.”
What is Corporate Purpose?
A corporate purpose, in its essence, is the compelling reason your organization exists.  It need not be a world changing, Nobel Peace Prize winning reason to exist.  Frankly, most great organizational purposes are simple yet eloquent, powerful yet doable, profound yet basic.
For example, the purpose of ServiceMaster (taken from the first of their four-part credo) is “To honor God in all we do.”  Regardless of what it is they do, ServiceMaster’s great purpose is to honor God.
The purpose for Rosenbluth International, the renowned multi-billion dollar travel management company, is to always put the employee first.  CEO Hal Rosenbluth has just revised and republished his best selling book entitled “The Customer Comes Second.”
The compelling reason Starbucks exists is to “leave no one behind.”  They so deeply believe in this purpose that new hires receive 24 hours of top quality training, full health care benefits (even for part-timers), enrollment in their “Bean Stock” program offering employee up to 14% of gross pay in company stock, and a stock investment plan at a premium discount. As a leader in health care and pharmaceuticals, Merck’s purpose is well summarized in their belief that “medicine is for people – not for profits.”  They are internationally renowned in donating millions of dollars of medicines to people around the world simply to help the patient’s condition, not to generate more bottom-line dollars.
Purpose Trumps Values/Mission/Vision
Clients often ask me in my coaching sessions where or how values, mission, and vision align with purpose.  Values are the social principles, goals, or standards upon which you base your entire operation.  These are the things your organization stands for and desires to be know for by your employees, customers, vendors, and all associated with your enterprise.
Mission is a statement that describes the nature of your business, your core products, services, and core customers.  It serves as a guidebook for how your operation works and for whom.
Vision represents what you believe to be the future should be for your organization.  It is your best, quick summary (usually 3-5 sentences) of your future destination, be it market position, image, financial status, reputation, service, etc.  Great vision is the result of both your insight into your current and/or potential industries, and your intuition of the future based upon previous experience and current data.
Purpose transcends values, mission, and vision.  Often I encounter good companies without a clear purpose earning reasonable profits, growing new customers, and managing to stay afloat.  Many of these good companies even have a values/mission/vision statement (though the executives are typically unable to repeat or recite any of the very statements they created)…and that is exactly the point.
A clear purpose intentionally forces employees, shareholders, vendors, and even customers to look beyond the quarterly returns and measure the performance of the organization on more than short-term financial benchmarks.  It changes the playing field, pushing all involved into asking a critically important question: are we merely making money, or are we making a difference?
Good leaders have a corporate vision.  Great leaders have a corporate purpose! What’s your company’s purpose?
Would love to hear from you on this critical leadership issue.
*Excerpt from my book Corporate Excellence available for purchase at