Avoiding pitfalls of developing a purpose statement

The wordsmithing trap

Hyperfocus on words can detract from the wider goal of becoming more purpose-led. When caught in a wordsmithing loop, it can be helpful to step back from the words, take stock and create space to address underlying concerns. This workshop can be helpful both in assessing a purpose statement against our criteria and in surfacing where peoples’ understanding and commitment is to become purpose-led.

Download: Exploring a draft purpose statement

Timeline expectations

Developing and aligning around a purpose statement is part of a wider process. It’s not a project and can’t be done quickly. The journey to develop the statement is as important as the finalised statement.

A company’s purpose can change. With a radical shift of the market, through new technology or dramatically changed social, environmental or economic context a stated purpose may become irrelevant. But a good purpose, oriented to benefitting society will also be a spur to innovation, and help to reset the purpose when necessary.

Who leads the work

Engaging with an external consultant is often beneficial but be wary of creating a dependency on a consultancy. It remains an internal journey and is ultimately defined by the real actions and behaviours the business demonstrates going forward. The work has to be led by the Exco and CEO so in seeking to engage consultants choose consultants that not only offer valuable advice and help facilitate the process, but that will help you to do the deep thinking that will enable the transformation that must happen within the organisation.

Who will make the final decision on the statement

In consulting the organisation and external stakeholders be open and honest with them that while the development of the organisation’s purpose and decisions will be very much informed by the consultation, the final decision is with the CEO/Exco. Communication of the findings of the consultation with the board will also help demonstrate to board members how the purpose was developed and the many voices it represents. It is hard to ensure every view is visible in the final statement, and that is why clarity around the process will help all parties understand, and feel, their contributions have been heard.

Avoiding siloed thinking

Purpose work can easily become either just another overt marketing or motivation tool, or be siloed within HR or CSR departments. Purpose is not a project owned by one department and it cannot just be ‘rolled out’ as a traditional change programme – that simply reinforces the command and control mindset which is part of what needs to change.