LIBRO

Purpose and mission, is it the same?

20 April 2021



For a few years, we have heard about the purpose of the company, and many wonders: what difference is there between purpose and mission?

The answer is: YES and NO. They can be the same, but they can also be complementary.

For more than three decades, the term mission has been used in companies under two meanings. The first one is the mission as the “for what” of the company, usually manifested with a short statement. This is, for example, Google’s mission case:

The second use of mission is about including the contributions of the company to its main stakeholders (clients, employees, partners, stakeholders,) This is the case of, for example, PepsiCo’s mission:

These two ways of understanding the mission – as the “for what” or as the contribution to the main stakeholders – still are regularly being used. Nevertheless, especially since 2014, in many companies the statement that sums up the “for what” has been renamed “purpose”.

Coca-Cola, for example, is one of the companies that has jumped on board with this “new trend”. For almost a year now, their traditional mission has been renamed into “the purpose” of Coca-Cola.

Having seen these examples, it is easy to notice that purpose and mission can be the same thing when talking about the “for what” of the company. What Google calls “mission” could well be designated as “Google’s purpose”; and what Coca-Cola names “purpose” is what, traditionally, was presented as their “mission”. However, taking for example PepsiCo’s mission, mission and purpose are different things when referring to the contribution to the different stakeholders. This is where the terminological confusion and hodgepodge begins for many companies, academics, consultants, etc.

But, how can we solve this mess out?

Having seen these examples, it is easy to notice that purpose and mission can be the same thing when talking about the “for what” of the company. What Google calls “mission” could well be designated as “Google’s purpose”; and what Coca-Cola names “purpose” is what, traditionally, was presented as their “mission”. However, taking for example PepsiCo’s mission, mission and purpose are different things when referring to the contribution to the different stakeholders. This is where the terminological confusion and hodgepodge begins for many companies, academics, consultants, etc.

But, how can we solve this mess out?

What we in DPMC defend is the use of the “purpose and missions” formulation. We call the short phrase “for what” of the company “purpose” and the contributions to the different stakeholders – the “for whom” -, we call “missions” (plural). In our judgment, this wording eliminates terminological ambiguity and, above all, is of great help to convey the principles of the organization more precisely.

By this wording, for example, our purpose and missions are presented as follows:

TRANSFORM THE BUSINESS WORLD THROUGH THE PURPOSE

COMPANIES

We promote the purpose of the company through management by missions.

FOUNDATION

We lookout for the prestige and sustainability of the foundation.

SOCIETY

We contribute giving meaning to the purpose in society.

PEOPLE

We facilitate the fundamental development of the person.

The formulation “purpose and missions”, not only helps to show the contrast of concepts but also establishes an existent relationship between them. To our minds, it is not about choosing between “purpose” or “meaning” but deploying purpose in missions, demonstrating the interdependence between the “for what” and “for whom” of the company. Because if a “for whom” (missions) did not exist, the “for what” would be completely irrelevant.