Defining Your Purpose

By Eva Rykrsmith on October 20, 2010 12 Comments

I previously wrote that purpose is one of the signs that your team is effective. Whether you are a leader of a company, a function, a department, a team, a family, or simply leading yourself, you are more effective when you have a sense of purpose. Purpose is having a reason for doing or existing. This can be a sense of where the company is headed, and understanding of why your team exists, knowing why the project is important, and connecting how each task contributes to the big picture.

A clear purpose communicates the intentions behind the daily to-dos and focuses in on why you are in business. It also provides inspiration and direction for smaller goals. Besides creating a crystal-clear awareness in your own mind about where you are headed, defining your purpose can make it easier to communicate goals, aspirations, value propositions, and priorities to others. When your purpose is ambiguous or undefined, you may find it difficult to plan for the future, make decisions, and put goals into action.

Getting Started

To gain clarity on what your purpose might be, start by writing out 10 words that come to mind when thinking about your team or business. Then to refine that and give it context, also write out the answers to the following questions (as relevant):

  • Why was the company founded?
  • What needs does the business address?
  • Why does this team exist?
  • Who does the work affect and how?
  • Where will we be in ten years?
  • What principles/values guide work?
  • What am I most passionate about?

This works best if you actually write something down, and if you don’t hold back. Write without censoring – this can also be done as a brainstorm session if you want to involve the entire team. After you have written something down, you can then mix and match those thoughts to create a mission statement. The mission statement is basically your purpose, written in concrete words. Mission statements explain what the company or team does.


I think the best mission statements are simple. Here are four examples of such mission statements:

  • CVS Pharmacy: We will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use.
  • Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
  • Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
  • Wal-Mart: To help people save money so they can live better.
  • Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

This post was originally published on the Intuit QuickBase Team Leadership blog.

12 Responses to “Defining Your Purpose”

  1. Karen Tiede says on: 21 October 2010 at 8:01 am

    Umm… Eva… That’s five examples of mission statements…

    Funny, though–as I read the article, I was thinking about Starbucks. I recently read Howard Schultz’ start-up story, Pour Your Heart Into It: how Starbucks built a company one cup at a time. He’s huge on “mission” and values and culture, and that it’s the responsibility of the founder to implement his or her values into the company.

    One unexpected take-away from the book: He practiced his “we’re worth your investment” speech 100 times before he “went for the big one,” the VC investment that would make or break Starbucks. Guy Kawasaki says to rehearse 25 times, and I thought THAT was a lot. (I have an interest in helping people be better public speakers–I usually tell clients to practice at least 5 times, and they often think that’s too much.

    Good column–thx.

  2. Eva Rykr says on: 21 October 2010 at 8:13 am

    Ah good catch! I must have written it and then added another.

    That’s so true about the speaking! When I speak, I often practice ~3 times and I know it’s not nearly enough. But, there are time constraints. If you have a one hour presentation, practicing five times means 5 hours. That could take 2-3 days. Practicing 25 times could take 1-2 weeks. I wonder how long it took him to practice 100 times?!

  3. Jonathan Dick says on: 26 October 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Great Insights-good artical and very accessible-passion can also be discovered in acheivements- not what we neccesarily do-but what was actually satisfying about it- a repeated pattern can be discovered and articulated which informs-the why behind our existence-not a complete look of course at operating identity, but a very helpful glimpse

    Team acheievements, corporate, famil;y ect-can also be used-great stuff-the why was the company founded -for what qualitative purpose is an unbeleivably important question

    Do you think sustainable purposes for organizations are always about serving others-about making the world better?

Leave a Reply:

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  Copyright © 2010 Articles by Eva Rykrsmith | Art credit for square in upper right hand corner to Michael D. Edens