Purpose, mission, vision, what’s the difference?


by GoodUp Info

Purpose, mission, vision, what’s the difference? When talking about purpose and how it fits into your overall business strategy the question of how purpose relates to your mission and vision statement often comes up. It’s not surprising that a lot of businesses have a hard time defining their purpose, mission, and vision. At first sight, it might be hard to spot the difference. However, when you look a little closer, you see that they are completely different. 

The key to a purpose-driven business, is to know the difference. But what exactly is the difference?

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There are a lot of opinions about what your mission and purpose are and how they are different from each other. Some definitions talk of mission as a synonym of purpose, others mix and match the different terms. But, respectable companies like Forbes, FastCompany, and HBR and purpose guru Afdhel Aziz all agree: your purpose related to your bigger why, your mission is what you’re doing to achieve that, and your vision is where you want to be when you accomplish your purpose and mission.

Purpose – relates to your why

“Where your core skills and expertise make a positive impact on society.”

In our blog Corporate purpose: the what, the why, and the how, you can read about what purpose is. At GoodUp we define purpose as “Where your core skills and expertise make a positive impact on society.”

It’s the reason why your business exists. Our purpose expert Wouter explains it from a personal point of view: “Purpose can take all kinds of shapes and forms. There are a lot of definitions, but for me purpose is what drives you out of bed. Maybe not something that you actively search for, but something that finds you and guides you in your life. I know this must sound like it’s an abstract concept, but it mainly comes down to what you care for. And that’s different for everyone.” From a business perspective, says Wouter, “Purpose is the higher goal you want to achieve with your business.”

Corporate purpose goes beyond making a profit. It doesn’t only connect to the head, but also to the heart. It connects to your deeper why, something that’s has gotten well known over the past few years thanks to Simon Sinek. You have to start with your why. Why did you get into this business in the first place? That’s where you’ll find your purpose.

Your company’s purpose is also a very important tool to inspire people. Not just your customers, but especially your employees. The shared goal of purpose is a strong motivator. Like Elon Musk said: “Put­ting in long hours for a corporation is hard. Putting in long hours for a cause is easy.” That’s why a successful purpose is incorporated into your core business strategy and lives throughout the entire company.

Mission – your what

“That what your company does, who it serves, and what differentiates it from competitors.”

Where your purpose gives you direction on why you’re here, and your vision tells you where you want to go, your mission shows you what you have to do to get there. A clear mission gives your company focus and direction. At the same time, it shows your customers what they can expect from you as a business. Practically, a mission statement is very important for your strategy and to get employees and management on the same page.

The easiest way to explain the difference between mission and purpose is by looking at some well-known companies and apply it to their business strategies. One of our favourites,  Patagonia, has a very strong purpose: “we’re in business to save our home planet.” This gives them a pretty distinct why. Their mission, what they do, is making quality outdoor gear through sustainable sourcing.

Another strong example is TOMS shoes. When founder Blake Mycoskie was asked about the difference he explained that his company’s mission is to sell shoes, but its purpose is to provide free footwear to people in need. They’re in business to improve lives.

Vision – where you want to go

“A vision statement is a declaration of an organisation’s objectives, intended to guide where it wants to go.”

Afdhel Aziz explains a company’s vision as the destination of what you want your brand or business to be in the future. Your vision is something you aspire to create, to achieve, or to become in the future.

What do you want your company, your community, or even the world to be when you achieve your mission and purpose?

Powerful examples are Microsoft’s first vision of “a computer on every desk and in every home” and Alzheimer’s Association’s vision of “a world without Alzheimer’s disease”.

Why is the difference so important?

A strong purpose and mission are indispensable if you want to be successful as a business. Because achieving your goal is impossible without a business structure that supports that desired outcome.

A mission and vision are guidelines for management and employees, it tells them what you do as a company and where you want to go. Your purpose on the other hand is not that practical, it’s inspirational. It stirs something inside all stakeholders. Customers, employees, investors. It’s not what you do for your company, but what you offer to the world? 

In his article on HBR, Graham Kenny says: “If you’re crafting a purpose statement, my advice is this: To inspire your staff to do good work for you, find a way to express the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients — whomever you’re trying to serve. Make them feel it.”

Where to start

Gallup suggests that words don’t even matter that much when it comes to purpose. It’s the actions of the company that really show its purpose. A purpose needs to be manifested within your company through actions. Think about examples like Accenture organising their Making a Difference Battle or Patagonia donating the 10 million they saved from tax breaks to charity.

Make purpose work for your business

In this blog series, we’ll explore the depths of purpose. What are the benefits for your business, how do you define a corporate purpose, and how can you turn that purpose into a business success? Read on and become a purpose expert yourself!

  1. Corporate purpose: the what, the why, and the how
  2. Purpose, mission, vision, what’s the difference?
  3. The three core benefits of purpose for business (coming soon)
  4. How to define your corporate purpose (coming soon)
  5. 13 companies with purpose
  6. How to use authenticity to create a successful purpose (coming soon)
  7. Employee purpose – How to activate it in your business
  8. The current state of purpose marketing