The Pursuit (and Pitfalls) of Purpose

by Tynan Gable
by Tynan Gable

In recent years, it has become commonplace for traditionally profit-focused organizations to speak openly about their vision for the future and the desired impact they seek to have. Consumers, in response, are becoming increasingly adept at recognizing which organizations are truly living out their values and acting in pursuit of their mission. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, employees can feel the disconnect when an organization makes commitments externally but then doesn’t follow through. To keep pace with changing expectations and increasing consumer scrutiny, it is critical that organizations center their work around a strong, clear, and inspiring north star.

At Intentional Futures, we work with visionary leaders across a wide range of sectors including education, technology, philanthropy, global health, climate. Our clients share an aspiration to make the world a better place, and our work supports them from idea to impact. However, you can't envision the future without a clearly stated articulation of who you are and what you stand for. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in the number of projects involving future envisioning and the crafting of a vision, mission, and set of values. 

What are they?

A vision statement answers “why do we exist?” It should be clear, attainable, and inspiring. The most compelling and effective vision statements assert a long-term goal for the organization that includes the commercial and societal problems a business intends to solve for its stakeholders through means that are financially sustainable or rewarding. We love the following example from the Nature Conservancy, which clearly depicts a shift in the world that they hope to help create in a way that is motivational and calls people in:

Our vision is a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.

A mission statement answers “what do we do to achieve our vision?” by clearly stating how an organization’s work contributes to the cause outlined in its ideal picture of the future. The mission statement gives everyone a baseline to guide and align decision making by asserting what you do, how you do it, and why/for whom you do it. The Nature Conservancy’s mission statement is the perfect pairing to its vision, as it articulates the action they will take to strive towards the future they seek:

Our mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

The values of an organization describe “how your guiding beliefs drive how you do business”. Values shape the conduct of people in their interactions with customers, partners, and one another. They also provide another benchmark for use in the daily decision-making process. We find Patagonia’s company values to be exceptionally strong, as they reinforce the culture of their organization as well as the principles by which they stand:

Build the best product: Our criteria for the best product rests on function, repairability, and, foremost, durability. Among the most direct ways we can limit ecological impacts is with goods that last for generations or can be recycled so the materials in them remain in use. Making the best product matters for saving the planet.
Cause no unnecessary harm: We know that our business activity—from lighting stores to dyeing shirts—is part of the problem. We work steadily to change our business practices and share what we’ve learned. But we recognize that this is not enough. We seek not only to do less harm, but more good.
Use business to protect nature: The challenges we face as a society require leadership. Once we identify a problem, we act. We embrace risk and act to protect and restore the stability, integrity and beauty of the web of life.
Not bound by convention: Our success—and much of the fun—lies in developing new ways to do things.

Common pitfalls

Through our interactions with our own clients and our observations of trends across the corporate world, we have learned some of the most common mistakes companies make with their visions, missions, and values:

  • Not having a clear or well-defined vision, mission, or values: This can make it difficult for employees to understand the company's purpose or direction or for customers to understand what distinguishes a company from its competitors.
  • Not communicating the vision, mission, or values effectively: Even if the company has a clear vision, mission, and values, it is important to communicate them effectively to internal and external stakeholders. If they are not widely understood or shared, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals.
  • Not living up to the vision, mission, or values: It is important for a company to follow through on its vision, mission, and values in its day-to-day operations. If the company's actions do not align with its stated aspirations, it can damage the company's credibility and reputation internally and externally. 
  • Not updating the vision, mission, or values as the company evolves: As a company grows and changes, its vision, mission, and values may need to be updated to reflect its new direction and priorities. It is important to periodically review and revise the vision, mission, and values to ensure that they are still relevant and meaningful to the company.
  • Focusing too much on profit: While it is important for a company to be financially successful, it is not the only measure of success. If a company's vision, mission, and values are solely focused on maximizing profits, it can lead to unethical or short-sighted decision-making.

How to get it right

Organizations should start by selecting a few key issues most important to their work and focus on culture changes that are deeply embedded into the business. This will start to build buy-in across the team and bring about internal benefits early on. A company’s vision, mission, and values can not be created in a top-down way. To capture the essence of the organization, stakeholders at all levels must be involved in shedding light on the shared purpose of the organization and how it manifests in the day to day. When you have internal support, your vision and mission become a way to activate culture, make smarter decisions, and demonstrate authenticity. 

A company’s vision, mission, and values should come alive across internal and external initiatives. Hiring and performance management should be grounded in the vision, mission, and values, reinforcing a strong company culture and providing clear guard rails for individual and collective growth. Professional development should map against the vision, mission, and values in clear ways. Partnerships should be established in line with the vision, mission, and values. Expectations for communication and behavior across the organization should be developed based on the vision, mission, and values. This collection of opportunities for bringing the vision, mission, and values to life will vary for each organization, but it is the responsibility of leadership to identify and implement what’s necessary to truly live up to the promises and aspirations of the company. 

Worksheet 1: Crafting your Vision, Mission, and Values


Answer the following questions by gathering as much stakeholder input as possible from a diverse group of people inside and outside your organization:

  • What is the reason for your company's existence? 
  • What need does it fill in the market, and how does it benefit your customers and the world?
  • Who are you trying to serve with your products or services?
  • What do you want to achieve as a company in the long run? In the short run? These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).


Answer the following questions by gathering as much stakeholder input as possible from a diverse group of people inside and outside your organization:

  • What principles guide your company's decision-making and actions? 
  • What values are most important to your company and your stakeholders?
  • What values align well with your company's purpose?
  • What beliefs do you hold as a company that you never compromise?

Use the information gathered above to craft statements that encapsulate your company's purpose, goals, and beliefs. The template below can be used as a guide for how to structure these statements:


To __(the big-picture what)__ for __(who)__ so that __(long-term impact)__.


To __(specific what)__ through __(how)__ so that __(shorter-term impact)__.


  • (Value term or phrase): (Definition of what this means at the organization).
  • (Value term or phrase): (Definition of what this means at the organization).
  • (Value term or phrase): (Definition of what this means at the organization).

Make sure to share your vision, mission, and values with your team, stakeholders, and customers so that everyone is on board and working towards the same goals. As your company grows and evolves, it's important to regularly review and revise these to ensure they stay relevant and aligned with your business. See worksheet 2 for more details.

Worksheet 2: Assess vision, mission, and values alignment

It is important to regularly assess whether your business practices align with your vision, mission, and values. Answer the following questions by gathering as much stakeholder input as possible from a diverse group of people inside and outside your organization:

  • Are your vision and mission clear and concise?
  • Are your company's actions consistent with your stated vision and mission? 
  • Do your products or services align with your vision, mission, and values?
  • Is your company living up to its stated purpose and values?
  • Is your business model consistent with your vision and mission? 
  • Are you pursuing opportunities that align with your stated values?

If you find that your vision and mission are not fully aligned with your company, consider revising them to better reflect your purpose and values. See worksheet 1 for more details. Make sure to communicate changes to your team, stakeholders, and customers. 

About the Author

Tynan is a Lead Strategist with experience managing large-scale social impact projects at Intentional Futures. Her recent project work has included driving internal alignment around a shared purpose and goals for organizations including Brooks Running, Indigenized Energy Initiative, and Seattle Hospitality Group. She brings fresh perspectives, considerate solutions, and thought-provoking questions to each interaction and is known by her peers and clients as a strong leader and partner in strategy work. Prior to working at Intentional Futures, Tynan earned an MBA from Willamette University with emphases in marketing and nonprofit management.

Want to learn more about crafting an effective mission, vision, and values? Send Tynan an email at

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