Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Have company mission statements become outdated?

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

In a world where your brand is your culture and your culture is your brand, mission statements may be outdated. They're seen as key components of your brand, but if your people aren't excited about living them every day, that means your brand and your culture are out of alignment. In my experience these statements, as they exist in most businesses, don't help your organization's leadership connect to your team, or your team connect to your customers. If that's the case, why have them at all?

Considered the gold standard of organizational guidance, the mission statement, along with vision and company values, have been diligently crafted by management teams as a way to determine an organization's direction. Strategic planning expert Graham Kenny describes a mission statement as, "the type of work [an organization] does, the clients it caters to, and the level of service it provides."

Story continues below advertisement

Unfortunately, when doing workplace cultural assessments, we've found if you ask most employees about their organization's vision or mission, about 80 per cent don't know.

For some reason, these familiar guideposts don't tend to be a management tool people wake up every day and use, even in organizations that have done a great job crafting their mission statements. This means the stated mission isn't guiding the team's behaviours, which begs the question, what is?

In the rare case where employees are truly guided by the mission statement of their business, organizations where workers not only can recite it, but live it and breathe it, there is a reason. The mission statement in these cases is more than just a mission, it's a purpose. If that sounds semantic, look at it this way: mission is something you intend to do. A purpose is a reason to do it.

There are some mission statements out there that define purpose, and the success of these statements can be attributed to this. For example, Facebook's mission is "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." Note that it isn't to be the top social media platform in the world. The statement goes beyond what they're going to do, and offers a purpose for doing it: they're aiming to make the world more open and connected.

Employees remember purpose. Those who feel engaged do so because they have purpose. A mission is a task they're expected to do. A purpose drives results. The difference is subtle, but important.

Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell's, once said that in order to do something meaningful in the marketplace you first need do it in the workplace. Incidentally, Campbell's mission statement is full of purpose: "We strive to bring products to market that offer more consumers more compelling ways to engage Campbell in their lives and that take the Campbell's brand to new places." They aren't just angling to sell more soup, their stated purpose is to find interesting ways for customers to use their products. Conant's message resonates well when talking about developing your company's purpose before all else, it needs to come to fruition among your employees before the market will embrace it.

All your stakeholders need to understand the value proposition your organization brings. In order for this to happen with clarity, your team needs to understand this as well, and having an articulated purpose will allow this to happen. It also offers a better way to use your culture as a competitive advantage. By aligning your culture with your stated purpose, you have a brand that is backed up by action, not platitudes. Again, that isn't to say a mission statement, vision and values are merely platitudes. But without that missing piece, purpose, they don't instruct behaviour in a meaningful way. A defined purpose can back every decision made.

Story continues below advertisement

Defining your purpose will really drives your people more than just mission and vision do. If you align that purpose tightly with your corporate culture, there is huge power in that as a tool to shape your brand, guide your behaviours and drive performance.

Marty Parker is CEO, Waterstone Human Capital, Toronto

Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨