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Who are You? – Defining Your Purpose and Values

Who are You?

We, at the Wunderlin Company, believe that is it as important for you to know who you are as it is to know where you are going, for where you are going will change as the world around you changes. Who you are defines

the enduring character of your organization. It captures its very soul.From Client art page

So, who are you? I’m not asking about your company’s current product line or customer segments. I’m asking: “What is your organization’s fundamental reason for being?”

It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not something you can invent, much less fake. It comes from looking deep inside your organization and discovering your company’s timeless character.

This issue is devoted to helping you understand the need for this soul-searching task and to give you some pointers on how to get started on this important work.

  • Overview: Defining Who You Are and Where You are Going
  • Discovering Your Organization's Purpose and Mission
  • It Helps to Have a Personal Mission Statement


Defining your organization’s purpose or mission is only the first step to knowing where you are going in the future. This journey is one of discovery. It cannot be deduced by looking at the external environment. You come to understand it only by looking inside. It has to be authentic. You cannot fake it. It is an exercise that enables you to create a clear picture of how you will advance into an uncertain future. By defining your purpose and then working to discover your values and vision, you become clear about how you will remain steadfast to your purpose and values while your business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world. In the next issue of “Changing Times,” we will look at how you go about envisioning your future and then working to reach it by defining strategies and short-term action.

flowchart for strategic planning process

Defining who you are, what you stand for, and what your envisioned future looks like is a process that continues indefinitely. Your purpose and values probably won’t ever change; your vision looks far out into the future; your strategies should be firmly in place; but your short-term actions require frequent review, for they will change as you accomplish some and set new goals.

What is it About Your Company That Will Last at Least 100 Years?

If you can answer this question, chances are you are close to defining your organization’s core values and purpose (or mission). For it is the qualities that will last “forever” that define what your company stands for. In the case of Disney, those folks will tell you that they are in business “to make people happy” – not to build theme parks and make cartoons.

According to business authors James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, you should think of your organization’s values and purpose as the “glue that holds the enterprise together.” Your core values are the handful of guiding principles by which your company navigates. Collins and Porras tell us in an article they wrote for Harvard Business Review that your purpose is the “guiding star on the horizon – forever pursued but never reached.”

Companies that enjoy enduring success have a clear picture of how they will advance into an uncertain future. “But,” clarifies Collins and Porras, “they are equally clear about how they will remain steadfast, about the values and purposes that they will always stand for” – even 100 years from now!

Core Values

Core values are a small set (usually between three and five) of timeless guiding principles. They are the essential and enduring tenets of an organization. They are so fundamental and deeply held that they will change seldom, if ever. They require no external justification; they are important to people inside the organization.

“To identify the core values of your own organization, push with relentless honesty to define what values are truly central,” advise Collins and Porras. You must not confuse your values (which do not change) with operating practices, business strategies, or cultural norms (which should be open to change).

One way to begin discerning your organization values is to take a look at a long list of value statements and rank how important each value is to the organization and how well the organization is living out that value. If a number of people in your organization go through this exercise, the information gleaned becomes the focus of continued conversations about what are the truly essential and enduring tenets of your organization.


If you ask your management team to define your company’s purpose and they say something like: “We exist to maximize shareholder wealth.” Tell them that’s not good enough. It does not inspire anyone and provides precious little guidance!

Instead, say authors Collins and Porras, ask these questions: “If you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money in the bank to retire, what is it about this company that would make you want to continue working here? What deeper sense of purpose would motivate you to continue to dedicate your precious creative energies to this company’s efforts?”

One goal of this exercise is to find people who are predisposed to share your company’s core values and purpose. “Companies more than ever need to have a clear understanding of their purpose in order to make work meaningful and thereby attract, motivate, and retain outstanding people.”

Another powerful way to distill your company’s purpose is to answer the five whys. Here’s how Collins and Porras explain it: Start with a descriptive statement. “We make X products.” or “We deliver X services,” and then ask, “Why is that important?” Ask it five times. After a few whys, you’ll find that you’re getting down to the fundamental purpose of your organization. You will start to articulate the very soul of your organization.
Being able to articulate your values and purpose is not an easy task. When attempting it, the point is not to create a perfect statement, but to gain a deeper understanding of what your organization really stands for that can then be expressed in a multitude of ways.

Core Purpose: A Company’s Reason for Being

Here’s a look at some core purpose statements for some successful companies.* Notice, none of them say: To maximize shareholder value!3M: To solve unsolved problems innovatively.

Fannie Mae: To strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing home ownership.
Hewlett-Packard: To make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.
Mary Kay Cosmetics: To give unlimited opportunity to women.
Merck: To preserve and improve human life.
Nike: To experience the emotion of competition, winning and crushing competitors.
Radio Sound: A company on the move providing people on the move with the technology to stay in touch.
Sony: To experience the joy of advancing and applying technology for the benefit of the public.
StemWood: Firmly rooted; stemming out.
The Wunderlin Company: To help companies identify and implement change.
Wal-Mart: To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people.

• “Building Your Company’s Vision,” by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1996
• “The Mission Statement Book,” by Jeffrey Abrahams
• The Wunderlin Company

It Helps to Have a Personal Mission Statement

Before launching an effort to discover the mission of your organization, you may want to spend some time looking within yourself to ascertain what your PERSONAL mission is in life. Ideally, you want your mission statement and the statements of those who work within your organization to align with your corporate one.

Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestseller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” advises us to live our lives “with the end in mind.” By this, he means “to begin today with an image, picture or paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined. Each part of your life – today’s behavior, tomorrow’s behavior, next week’s behavior, next month’s behavior – can be examined in the context of the whole, of what really matters most to you.”

Covey believes that the most effective way to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement or philosophy or creed. It focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based. He advises that because each individual is unique, a personal mission statement will reflect that uniqueness, both in content and form. He likens a personal mission statement to the United States Constitution. “It’s fundamentally changeless.” He notes that the U.S. Constitution is the standard by which every law in the country is evaluated. It is the foundation and the center that enables people to ride through such major traumas as the Civil War, Vietnam, or Watergate. It is the written standard, the key criterion by which everything else is evaluated and directed.

A personal mission statement based on correct principles becomes the same kind of standard for an individual. It becomes a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives. It empowers individuals with timeless strength in the swirl of change.

With a mission statement, says Covey, we can flow with change. It becomes our bedrock or foundation – solid ground beneath our feet.

Once you have a sense of mission, you have the beginnings of your own proactivity. You have the vision and values that can direct your life. You have the basic statement or tenet from which you set your long- and short-term goals. You have the power of a written constitution against which every decision concerning the most effective use of your time, your talents, and your energies can be measured.

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