It is common for people to use the words purpose and mission interchangeably.  This is particularly true in businesses that write a public statement.  They frequently don’t know whether to call it a purpose or a mission statement.  The truth is, the two are very different, and are written for different audiences.

A purpose statement is the most foundational statement you can make.  This is true if it is about your business or your personal life.  Our purpose is our reason for being.  It is the overarching “why” of everything we do.  A purpose statement transcends goals and objectives and is generally broad enough to withstand both internal and external changes.  According to dictionary.com, purpose is “the reason for which something exists or is done.”

A mission statement, on the other hand, is focused on action.  Whether it’s a personal or a business mission statement, it addresses what we do and whom we serve.  A well-crafted mission statement should tell readers the methodology we use to accomplish our purpose.

It is important for a business to have both a purpose and a mission, but of the two, the purpose statement must come first.  How can we know what we do if we don’t fully understand why we do it?  A compelling purpose will permeate all levels of an organization, and be the guiding light for leaders, employees and customers.

An important corollary to having a purpose statement is being clear on your business’s values.  These should closely align with your personal values.  It is crucial for you to write out your values and to check them against your purpose.  For example, if one of your values is “integrity,” and your purpose is to “provide people with outstanding products or services,” you will always be called to innovate and be sure that what you are providing truly is outstanding.

It takes all three statements—purpose, mission and values—to be successful, and the umbrella under which it all falls is the purpose statement.  In the past few months, as unprecedented conditions have caused people to look closely at their businesses, many have felt that it might be time to find a new purpose.  If you are one of these people, I invite you to consider that perhaps your purpose wasn’t big enough in the first place.

A meaningful purpose is big enough to withstand changes in the economy and market conditions.  It should be timeless and values-driven.  Perfect your purpose statement, and then create a mission statement that describes your action. Remember, purpose is the why, values are the what, and mission is the how.