Q: What is the difference between a mission statement and a corporate purpose?
A: A mission statement is really about how a company plans to pursue its goals. These goals can revolve around the pursuit of market leadership, operating efficiency or customer satisfaction, for example. An organization might touch upon in its mission statement, but these may or may not include what we might term "corporate purpose." Corporate purpose is more about the core reason for being. It is the impact an organization wants to have on the world or on its surrounding community. And this desired impact is grounded in shared values.
For instance, the craft-beer industry is already defined in some ways by shared values such as paying it forward and helping new businesses tackle their startup issues when entering into a given segment. The industry also shares a value that a rising tide can lift all boats. A number of segments, specifically in artisanal or craft-based categories, share these values. It's interesting to see the roles that founders of these businesses adopt and how these roles can evolve with business growth.
In Minneapolis-St. Paul, we find that many business owners in a sense become stewards of the entire ecosystem. For example, in my research, I came across a founder and founding team spending a significant amount of time really helping to lay the groundwork in the community — for example, sitting on neighborhood boards, writing to politicians and crafting op-eds for the local paper around issues such as zoning laws. Essentially, they sought to do everything possible policywise to ensure others starting a business in their industry did not have to jump over the same hurdles that they had to surpass.
In interviews, we noticed that many business owners didn't talk directly about making money or explicitly mention the competition; they relied on a totally different language that was much more relational than it was transactional. It was much more about quality. It was about how we can educate the consumer base so that they can develop an understanding of the potential of the product. The words they used shed light on these core shared values that lie at the heart of corporate purpose.
Casey Frid is an assistant professor in the department of entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.