Purpose As The Foundation of Strategic Planning

Monday, January 20 2020

One approach to creating the organization’s strategy is to start by defining its purpose. We often hear about vision, mission and values, but less often about purpose. Sometimes it is promoted as a replacement for one of the other key elements; and that may be your bias, but here’s how some strategic planning experts include purpose as one of the four key elements of strategy:

  • Vision: A clear, concise description of our organization’s future destination.
  • Mission: An articulation, generally written in the present tense, of the central reason for our organization’s existence, often with additional detail about how we achieve it.
  • Values: Those beliefs, feelings and behaviours relevant to the work we do.
  • Purpose: A statement of why we exist, with an emphasis on what guides us rather than the “how” articulated in the mission.

Purpose is an excellent starting point in the process of creating a strategy. In their 2019 HBR article, “Put Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy*” the authors discuss two approaches to determining purpose:

  1. Retrospective – requiring us to look back and understand our organizational and cultural DNA; and to consider how our DNA opens us up to future opportunities.
  2. Prospective – attempting to make sense of the future and then creating a plan to move your organization toward it.

How might you define your purpose?

Some put the quest for a purpose in the hands of their stakeholders: leaders, employees, and customers. This can be done by asking relevant questions, creating focus groups, surveys, or enlisting the help of third party expertise. Whichever approach you choose, defining your purpose can be an effective foundation for the entire strategic planning process.

A purpose that helps employees accomplish more than merely pushing products and services separates high growth companies from the pack. It is key to ensure that what you define as the organization’s purpose is relevant to those you wish to serve. The more universal the appeal of your purpose, the more clients will look to your organization to meet their needs.


*HBR Sept 2019, Thomas W. Malnight, Ivy Buche, Charles Dhanarj