[Q&A] What is the difference between a mission and purpose statement?

Oct 06, 2023

Q:What is the difference between a mission and purpose statement?

A: There are differing opinions on these statements, but our interpretation is that a mission statement answers, “Why do we exist today?” and the purpose statement answers, “How do we feel we’re supporting that mission?”

The most important takeaway is the importance of alignment and consensus in your organization about why you exist.


Great question! Here are a few of the best answers from our Strategy Collaborative Q&A Session!

While some people may consider a mission and purpose statement to be synonymous or interchangeable, OnStrategy’s philosophy is that these two elements are unique but intertwined.

Distinct Roles of a Mission & Purpose Statement

Mission Statement- “Why do we exist as an organization today?”

A mission statement provides clear answers to why an organization exists today, outlining your core purpose for existing.

Purpose Statement- “How do we feel as an organization in supporting that mission statement?”

A purpose statement articulates how an organization supports its mission behaviorally. It can serve as a clarifying statement to add depth and narrative to your mission, focusing on the collective organization and employees’ broader impact in pursuit of your mission.

Counterpoints to OnStrategy’s definitions

According to other Collaborative members, a counter definition defines the purpose statement as the simple answer to the question, ‘Why do we exist?”.

Alternatively, the counter definition of the mission statement defines it as more of an answer to the question, “What impact will our organization have on the world?” As such, the mission statement accounts for a more tangible or numerical impact, such as revenue, and centers on immediate or near-term goals.

Pro Tip

It’s important to get a consensus on what these statements mean for your specific organization and how your team will use them during the planning process.

Ultimately, despite different perspectives, make sure you land on a definition and stick with it. For the sake of efficiency and consensus, it is good to narrow down these terms and clearly define them for your own organization, at least.

Keep it Simple and Be Crystal Clear

Simple, clear, and straightforward statements are imperative to avoid confusion and ensure effective internal and external communication. The mission should be easy to comprehend, reflecting immediate organizational goals, while the purpose statement should articulate the emotional and philosophical rationale behind organizational activities.

As long as your definition for mission, North Star, purpose statements, and the like create clarity between the current and future states, then you have the grounding for your strategic plan.

Make it Your Own and Be Consistent

A standard tip we like to give people is to make your mission statement something unique to your organization and that your team would want to wear on a T-shirt.

No matter how you choose to define the differences between a mission and purpose statement, make sure it is something your team will want to stand by and be consistent with it!

Conclusion

Despite the diverse interpretations of mission and purpose statements, simplicity, clarity, and consistency stand out. Ensuring these elements in the statements contribute to effective strategic planning and guides the organization seamlessly and cohesively toward its future goals.

Additional Resources to Consider

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