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What’s Your Why?

Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose.

– Leonardo da Vinci

Vision and mission statements have long been the rage in organizations as they supposedly define what the organization is about. Do you know what your organization’s vision or mission is? Could you tell me what either one is, right now—without looking it up? I thought not. I bet they’re hanging on the wall in some conference room, gathering dust. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

Another problem with vision and mission statements is that the terms themselves aren’t very clear and create confusion. Employees always seem to wonder what the difference between the vision and mission is. Also, the mission statement of the company often does not reflect the reality of what the company is trying to create. I’ve seen many cases where the true mission of a company was to make money and the vision was to make a lot of money. Seriously.

This is why I prefer a purpose, or “why?” statement. I believe it is far clearer in terms of definition, and therefore easier to own and promote. Why did you create your company? Why does it exist? What problem are you trying to solve?

The why? of Gemba Academy is to “remove the struggle of continuous improvement training.” It’s simple, but it says a lot. We started the company to help smaller organizations that otherwise could not access high quality continuous improvement training, but we also include large multinationals that are struggling to deploy training across global locations.

Like many other organizations that use a purpose statement instead of a vision statement, we also have a mission that further defines what we are trying to accomplish. Our mission statement talks about how we create high-quality content, then we help organizations undertake and sustain their continuous improvement journeys.

The ideas behind these statements are only useful if a company puts them into practice, and to achieve this, everyone in an organization needs to be involved. Although the founders, owners, and leadership team often work to create an organization’s principles, why?, and mission, it is important to engage employees by involving them in the planning process (we’ll discuss this in more detail in the Create the Hoshin Plan section). By doing so, you create acceptance, ownership, and understanding of the foundational statements. Then everyone can use the same core set of principles, the same why? statement, and the same mission statement to review and analyze your organization.

Going beyond your organization, what about you? What is your purpose, your why? Cornell University researchers recently confirmed that a sense of purpose decreases impulsivity, thereby making choices that pay of better in the long term. This is something to contemplate on your next seijaku (quietude) experience.