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Purpose vs. Mission

Purpose vs Mission

Is your mission aligned with your purpose?

Looking at several of the biggest companies in the world, e.g. GE, BP, etc. there are efforts, at least in their language, to clean up their act. However, their approaches are still from a perspective of their current paradigm. Companies try to project inward what they project out, what they think the public opinion wants to hear and see. Don’t get me wrong, any change opens the opportunity for some substantial and sustainable change to happen, but does it go any deeper than the surface? When the companies come to choose between doing what is right for planet, people or profit, what will be their priority and assessment criteria? 

When we look at companies like Exxon Mobile and Haliburton, they do not hide the fact that they are stuck in the old paradigm and their mission and, ultimately, purpose is to return profit to their shareholders. 

“Exxon Mobil Corporation is committed to being the world’s premier petroleum and chemical manufacturing company. To that end, we must continuously achieve superior financial and operating results while adhering to high ethical standards.” – Exxon Mobil Guiding Principles,

“Our mission is to achieve superior growth and returns for our shareholders by delivering technology and services that improve efficiency, increase recovery, and maximize production for our customers.” – Haliburton Mission Statement,

These companies’ mission statements are in alignment with their purpose, however misguided they might be, they at least have that. GE, for example, actually has a “Purpose Statement”:

“We rise to the challenge of building a world that works.” –

Unfortunately this purpose statement is too ambiguous; one can ask for whom the world will work that they are building it, shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, communities, etc.  It is clever insomuch that any stakeholder can decide for themselves what it means and align it with their own purpose. The problem arises when GE doesn’t meet the stakeholder’s expectations because GE meant something different and now of course there is a loss of trust. BP on the other hand has a very specific purpose statement as to what they will do:

“to reimagine energy for people and planet and to become a net zero company by 2050, or sooner, and help the world get to net zero. “,

The strategy BP employs to achieve its goals might not be to everybody’s liking, but, when you read their annual report, they are forward looking, solution focused and in line with what they say. However, what happens after 2050, does the company stop being an entity then? I wouldn’t think that’d be the case, but one will have to assume that a new purpose will be stated once this one has been achieved. However, all in all a good attempt.

Using the above example, if BP gets called out or found to not practice what they preach, there will be major ramifications in terms of tarnished stakeholder trust. Especially at a time when humanity’s trust in media, corporations, governments, etc. is eroding, such a backlash impacts negatively across all stakeholders. In the US the trust in government changed from 1958 at just above 70% to just over 20% in 2021 ( In addition to these indicators, data is also showing that we no longer accept staying in a job just for the paycheque, we need something more, we need fulfilment. In November 2021 alone, 4.5M people voluntarily left the workforce in the US. In Singapore a quarter of the workforce have said they intended to leave work in the first half of 2022 ( More and more people are seeking to work with companies where their purposes are aligned. We are also increasingly likely to make buying, selling and investment decisions based on “value alignment”. A study in 2020 by 5W PR ( found that 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their own values. Looking at the segment of Millennial consumers, that figure increases to 83%.

Most businesses today are stuck in the old paradigm where they mistake their mission for their purpose, but at the end of the day their purpose is to make money, so when it comes down to choosing between mission or the bottom line, they will choose what is best for the bottom line. Thankfully there is an increasing number of companies that will sacrifice profit to meet their commitment to people and the planet.  The challenge businesses come up against with a purpose stated in profit is that only the owners fully align with it, in some cases that comes unaligned as well where pressure on investors to see the bigger picture increases. Historically, the purpose of making money was accepted because for the workers it was a matter of survival, but many societies are moving beyond that. Of course there are societies in the world where survival is still top of mind and they get used by corporations for this particular weakness. Fashion is a sector that regularly gets called out for using sweatshops and see their stakeholder trust diminished. On every occasion the businesses claim that they are going to fix the problem, but they get caught over and over again in their perpetual pursuits of improved margins. 

Part of the process in understanding purpose is to explore and discover one’s own value proposition, and in the extension of that the business’. Since we are discussing a business topic here it is only natural to equate “value” with some monetary aspect. However, value here is related to what you stand for and hold dear to your heart. Value is related to embodied emotions that connect us to humanity as a whole, e.g. love, compassion, etc. Hence, if we bring value into the old paradigm of profit oriented purpose, we will find that they are mutually exclusive. 

Doing the right thing and holding steadfast in aligning your mission to your purpose takes courage and conviction. Companies such as, Sheep Inc and Patagonia manages to do this, but it is not always smooth sailing and investments don’t always have a monetary ROI, but rather a planet or people ROI. They embody their purpose and require their suppliers, investors and employees to action it at every level; there are no excuses of, “we weren’t aware because we have no insight”, they demand it. Unfortunately, doing the right thing often cost more because you often have to seek out those stakeholders that want to do the same and they might not be a plenty. You end up with a high quality product, but at a higher price. However, we have to start somewhere and at the end of the day the top 10% of the wealthiest people represent nearly half of all the CO2 emissions, so it is in the right end of the scale. 

Among Millennials 75% would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company and 76% consider a company’s ESG (environmental and social (and corporate) governance) credentials when looking for a job. Consider that job market when Millennials are in their late 50’s, will pure for profit businesses even have a place in that job market?  Since more and more people are seeking out companies and millennials and younger generations are even prepared to earn less to find employment that aligns with their values, companies cannot stay in that old paradigm, they need to shift. The paradigm is shifting and stakeholders are becoming increasingly discerning in who they buy from, work for, invest in and sell to.

Business EnergySetting up a mission statement is easy, it only requires some marketing jargon, but for a business to embody it as its purpose is a whole other thing. However, it is a necessity for any business to build sustainability as the paradigm is shifting from profit driven businesses to where they focus on people, planet and profit. As Mary Portas said in one of her Kindness Economy podcasts, “We want to work joyfully”. That joy comes out of the energy flowing through a business without impediments and blockages. When every single aspect of a business aligns with its purpose for existing we have a sustainable business that is supported by all its stakeholders; there is an emotional connection and commitment that goes beyond the vanity of money, whether it be a salary, dividends or purchase. Purpose alignment creates sustainable loyalty and trust. 

Your business might have some big challenges to shift towards purpose alignment, but if you don’t disrupt your business today, someone else will do it for you tomorrow. 

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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Purpose vs. Mission
Article Name
Purpose vs. Mission
Purpose vs mission in the new paradigm is a question of a company's value proposition. What values beyond profit does it hold?
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The Alchemy Experience
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