Purpose. Mission. Vision. Strategy. Culture. What’s the difference?

There can be so much confusion around what these are that their benefit is significantly diluted.

So let’s get some clarity.

I’ll start with purpose.

Purpose = why we exist

Purpose was perhaps first illustrated by David Packard, co-founder of HP, in a talk he gave to his employees way back in 1960. He said:

I want to discuss why a company exists in the first place. In other words, why are we here? I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists simply to make money. While this is an important result of a company’s existence, we have to go deeper and find the real reasons for our being. A group of people get together as a team, company or organisation so they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately—they work together to make a contribution to society…their underlying drive coming from a desire to do or achieve something which is of value. Purpose (which should last at least 10……….Whereas you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfil a purpose; it’s like a guiding star on the horizon—forever pursued but never reached. It’s the impact you want to have.

Mission = what we do

So, if you think of purpose as answering the question WHY does your team or organisation exist, then MISSION answers the question WHAT does your team or organisation do?

It explains what business or industry you are in, the type of products or services you offer and for whom.

It may even provide details of your USP.

Vision = where we are heading

A vision on the other hand projects a desired destination. It paints a picture of a future perhaps only you as a leader can imagine.

It helps others visualise what you are all working towards. It describes the mountain you need to climb.

Vision answers the question WHERE are we going?

Unlike your purpose, a vision can actually be achieved…

Strategy = how we will get there

…and that’s where your strategy comes in.

If your vision describes WHERE you are going, then your strategy explains HOW you are going to get there.

It’s like the directions in Google Maps.

Culture = who we are

And your culture provides something of a moral compass.

It describes how you and your team will ACT and BEHAVE on your journey, the VALUES and PRINCIPLES you will uphold.

It reveals your character, the type of individual, team or organisation you strive to be.

What’s the difference between purpose, mission and vision?

  • Purpose = why do we exist?
  • Mission = what do we do? Or what business are we in?
  • Vision = where are we heading?
  • Strategy = how will we get there?
  • Culture = how should we behave en route?

These are all key questions that help any current or future employee understand what makes your organisation or team unique.

The answers give context to the work they do, day in, day out.

They inspire your employees to want to work harder, to go the extra mile.

Most importantly, they unite everyone together, connecting an otherwise disparate group of people so you are all working in unison, all pulling in the same direction to achieve something of value, something exceptional, something that makes a real difference.