The Differences Between Mission and Purpose When It Comes To Business

In the world of business, there is a sometimes fine line between one’s understanding of that business’s “mission” and its “purpose.” But what many business leaders are coming to understand as younger generations search for personally fulfilling work is that this line should be developed a little more fully.

The Mission:

Every business has a “mission statement” that embodies the overall drive of the business. What are its goals? What is the point? What are we doing? A mission statement will cover these ideas and give you a good idea of what values a business stands on as well as its short and long term goals.

A mission provides a sense of focus for managers and employees alike, especially if the original creator of the business is no longer around for reference. When a business is founded, its leaders had a specific idea of what that business meant and what it would do. This is the mission, the “what.”

The Purpose:

On the other hand, a business’s “purpose” embodies the reasons behind the function of the business. Why does this business exist? Why are its goals focused where they are? A business’s purpose is its soul, and it is this aspect of a business that can make or break employment as well as success.

A purpose is connected to the world at large, which includes community and cultural considerations. A purpose drives one’s passion to succeed, because it is worth striving for.

Mission vs. Purpose: What Does it All Mean?

Too often in today’s world, the soul of a business is left behind in the wake of projected profits. If the original reason why something was implemented becomes obscure or forgotten, then the business will start to focus entirely on the what and often ignore the wider world.

Those business leaders who are too consumed with the mission may forget why the business was built in the first place. This often leads to trend-chasing, and can seriously deter both loyal employees and customers from interacting with that business. This is in part from the sheer disingenuousness of the whole ordeal, and in part because trend-chasing creates cookie-cutter industries that will eventually grow stale, not lasting businesses.

Understanding and adhering to a common purpose opens a path to future innovation and garners respect from the world that recognizes that business. Staying true to one’s purpose is the cornerstone of morality, and for most individuals, the difference shows.

One excellent example of a business leader who worked purpose-driven rather than mission driven is founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia is a multi-million dollar industry that specializes in outdoor gear for nature lovers and, originally, rock climbers. In 1992, Chouinard decided to make an attempt to reduce his company’s environmental impact, and chose to change Patagonia’s clothing to strictly organic cotton.

In the short term, this decision led to a noticeable decrease in profits, as it took a great investment (and a reliance on customer loyalty) to implement the change. But in the long term, the decision proved its mettle and Patagonia began to thrive once more. Such a decision, on the drawing board, would have looked risky from the start and would have certainly made a mission-driven business leader hesitate. But for the passion-driven business leaders like Chouinard, the meaning behind the change meant more than the risks, and that was what mattered.

Today’s Workers:

More than ever before, the young professionals of today are demanding that their work be connected to some sense of purpose. Having purpose makes it easier to find a niche in one’s work, and makes employees more likely to inspire future generations of the benefits of that work as well as of the business world as a whole.

These young professionals are the backbone of the modern work industry, and it is crucial to ensure that they are not only drawn into a line of work, but can be happily kept there as a loyal, intelligent employee. Beyond this fact, the implementation of a purpose-driven business model is essential to creating a successful business that people everywhere can easily recognize as an industry with a soul, with a sense of values.

Taking the Next Steps:

To help you establish and maintain a purpose-driven business, consider implementing this routine:

  • Make your purpose clear
  • Reflect on your purpose regularly
  • Engage employees to participate and appreciate your purpose
  • Engage customers to understand and appreciate your purpose

Edward Schinik is the CEO of Yorkville Advisors 


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