Do Your Dharma

Dec. 21, 2004
A company's purpose statement should come from within.

Oscar Wilde, in Lady Windermere's Fan, describes a cynic as "A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing." Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing is something all chief executives should be concerned about. A gentlemen who lives in our condominium building is a Sikh. He doesn't wear a turban. He doesn't flaunt his religion. But he lives his values. I asked him one day, "What is the difference between karma and dharma?" He replied, "Karma is what you do. Dharma is what you are supposed to do. So, if you do your dharma, you will have good karma." Armed with this wisdom, I established a team to help me write a company purpose statement. I wanted it to achieve two key objectives: describe what our company did at the same time it described what we were supposed to do. In preparation, I did some research. I sent questionnaires to a random selection of employees, customers, and suppliers. I asked them to select from a list of words those they considered to be most important in describing a company they wanted to work for, buy from, or sell to. Eight words were mentioned most often: caring, honest, fair, integrity, trustful, respectable, commitment, accountable. These are words well worth remembering. I shared my findings with our team and asked them to incorporate as many as they could into our purpose statement. Now, while I believe a company's purpose statement is the chief executive's responsibility, I have found that the most workable ones are written by employees. A purpose statement without a purpose is no statement at all. And a purpose statement written by the CEO (or the PR department) might read well, but won't work well. But when your employees help create the purpose statement, they will not only believe it, but accept it, live it, and implement it. When employees participate in the creation of the company's value statement they accept the challenge and they accept the assignment. They have bought in. They will now believe what the purpose statement says because they helped create it. A purpose statement is never final. Nor should it be. It is a continuing work-in-process. It must be edited, refined, changed, contracted, expanded, or reinvented as the company evolves. Every employee should have a copy of the purpose statement. It's a constant reminder of what your company stands for and what it won't stand for. At its best, a purpose statement also will tell a company where it's going. And how it plans to get there. It's a map leading to specific destinations. To be effective, it must be concise, clear, and complete. "How does a purpose statement differ from a mission statement? In a book he coauthored, The Purpose-Driven Organization (1989, Jossey-Bass Publishers), Perry Pascarella, former editorial vice president of Penton Publishing (now Penton Media) and former editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, says: "A purpose statement differs from both the business mission statements that some companies have prepared and the credos that have long been popular. It is different because it brings together the best of contains a business mission that describes what business the organization is in or wants to be in. This description covers products, services, markets, customer needs, competitive advantages, and niches of business. "But it also provides performance measures...qualitative and quantitative. The statement of purpose also contains a section expressing the values that determine management practices; how the company should conduct its business. It describes in a broad manner the orientation toward the welfare and treatment of the organization's assets -- technology assets, physical assets, financial assets, and people assets, inside and outside the organization." To put it another way, a purpose statement is like dharma. It's what you should do in dealing with your employees, your customers, your suppliers, your shareholders, and the media. "If you do your dharma, you'll get good karma."

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