A framework for writing a 3D purpose statement anchored in your organization's impact.
by Paul Pierroz
Strategy | Sustainability | Marketing
August 17, 2021 - As leaders become involved in helping people and organizations through change and transformation, they must appreciate the importance of communicating what needs to get done and why it must be done. You need to simply explain why it exists to unlock the door to retaining and attracting stakeholders.
Amid the most challenging times, your ability to bring stakeholders back to first principles and connect with them at a deeper emotional level can be the difference between success and failure. Today, we refer to this skill as motivating people through purpose. However, for this to happen, we need a purpose in the first place.
Why is communicating purpose so essential? It’s a matter of choice. It’s safe to assume your stakeholders are operating from free will and selecting between options, and you are only one of these options. They decide how and with whom to make a living, invest their time and financial resources, and place their trust and business. Arguably, more choice translates into a greater need to formulate and communicate a purpose. So, how can you develop yours?
PURPOSE IN THREE DIMENSIONS
Developing a message that can work for your organization begins with applying three dimensions. We can refer to this as your 3D purpose statement. It includes your societal or ecosystem impact, your stakeholder or stakeholders, and your utilization impact. To show how they can be isolated and then combined to form a compelling statement, let’s do a 3D breakdown of the Olympic Games’ purpose and then look at their actual purpose:
• Societal impact – promote peace and unity
• Stakeholders – the international community
• Utilization impact – the medium of sports
We can see how each of the elements comes together in their statement:
“The purpose of the modern Olympic Games is to promote peace and unity within the international community through the medium of sports.”(1)
Their societal or ecosystem impact is the promotion of peace and unity between nations. This may not be easy to measure. However, we can undoubtedly measure the utilization impact by calculating participation and viewership of the sporting events themselves. The Games affect the international community or nations of the world. They are its primary stakeholders. Using this technique, you can develop multiple options and land on your best-fit statement. Let’s explore this further with an examination of purpose and three existing statements from Valeo, Enviva, and Ingevity. They have all built a one-of-a-kind story using their impact as purpose.
VALIDATING YOUR PURPOSE
A leader’s role is to continually align their organization to its purpose. You may have a legacy purpose statement, one that you wish to validate or that you’re in the process of creating. An excellent place to start is by checking yours. Begin with two questions:
• Does our purpose reflect our actual impact?
• Have we constructed it intentionally?
Regardless of where you stand, with a review of three more organizations and a look into how they have assembled theirs considering our dimensions, you’ll be well on your way.
Valeo: The global supplier of automotive electrical systems is on a mission to improve the quality of future mobility, and its purpose contains all three dimensions.
• Societal impact – well-being and safety
• Stakeholders – citizens and consumers
• Utilization impact – greener, safer, and more diverse mobility
It uses the first of three sentences to tell stakeholders how to think about the company and its mission before describing its purpose.(2)
“Valeo’s ambition, as a tech company, is to play a major role in tomorrow’s mobility. At the heart of today’s environmental and social issues, future mobility must be greener, safer, and more diverse. It must also contribute to the well-being and safety of citizens and consumers."(3)
Suppose your organization affects several stakeholders. In that case, you may consider eliminating a reference to stakeholders and instead focusing on your societal impacts and utilization, as in the case of Enviva. Or, alternatively, you may refer to stakeholders as a collective, using the phrase “world” or “us.”
Enviva: The purpose statement for Enviva, a producer of wood pellets for international markets, emphasizes its outcomes and benefits. Their message has two utilization impacts that they can measure and an overarching societal impact of their product.
• Societal impact – fight climate change
• Utilization impact – grow more trees and displace coal
Implicit in the statement is that the effect will be shared with all stakeholders. Its message is compact and direct.(4)
“Enviva exists to displace coal, grow more trees, and fight climate change.”(5)
Ingevity: There is also an option to focus solely on your utilization impact. Ingevity brings its purpose into focus by using three utilization impacts in its statement. As a provider of specialty chemicals, materials, and engineered polymers, the purpose captures its expected contribution in a short sentence.
• Stakeholders – us
• Utilization impact – purify, protect, and enhance
They draw purpose from the benefits they create for stakeholders from their various products and technologies.(6)
“Ingevity’s purpose is to purify, protect and enhance the world around us, and we deliver on it every day.”(7)
As we see with Ingevity, the advantage of focusing on utilization impacts is their ability to develop purpose-driven marketing content directly from the impact areas. Admittedly, there could be lively debate around any of these examples between whether something fits into societal or utilization impacts. To distinguish the two, we assumed that social impact is related to a much larger ecosystem.
As you work on your purpose statement, think about the three dimensions – societal impact, stakeholders, utilization impact – and ensure you have a degree of alignment and integration to your purpose. What you create can be highly compelling. And, let’s face it, the 22 words used by the Olympic Games have become a cornerstone of one of the most influential and sustainable brands of our time.
(1) This information is from multiple websites, including the Huffington Post, original post on Forbes.com, Leigh Steinburg, “6 Reasons Why Rio Olympics Are Tainted,” August 3, 2016 and updated August 4, 2017. https://www. huffpost.com/entry/6-reasons-why-rio-olympic_b_11318328
(2) This information is from the Valeo website, About Us, “Statement of Purpose.” https://www.valeo.com/en/statement-of-purpose/
(3) This information is from the Valeo website, About Us, “Statement of Purpose.” https://www.valeo.com/en/statement-of-purpose/
(4) This information is from the Enviva website, Mission and Values, “What is our Purpose?” https://www.envivabiomass.com/mission-and-values/
(5) This information is from the Enviva website, Mission and Values, “What is our Purpose?” https://www.envivabiomass.com/mission-and-values/
(6) This information is from the Ingevity website, Opening Page content. https:// www.ingevity.com/
(7) This information is from the Ingevity website, Opening Page content. https:// www.ingevity.com/