Time for a quiz. To what organisations can we attribute the following statements, components of the published statements about themselves:

“Integrity. Saying and doing what’s right.”

“We are committed to serving our guests, our co-workers and the communities in which we operate.”

“Sustainable, collaborative, and responsible thinking underlies everything that we do.”

You would be right in guessing Commonwealth Bank, 7-Eleven and Volkswagon. You might also be scratching your head, in light of the recent public scandals at these companies, thinking that words are cheap and these espoused statements of purpose haven’t actually counted for much; just big companies proffering their virtues, to then sell out when a buck is in on the line.

Most bigger businesses have some form of vision, mission, purpose or company values. Even though traditional and government business plans always ask for them, it’s not common for small businesses to have any such statement or to actually use them. The behaviour of the big boys is hardly compelling reason to adopt it as a practice either. For a new business or small business, is there any point in writing missions, visions, purpose or company values? The answer is yes, but only when created in their own voice, then used authentically. Let me explain.

In the start up business, missions and values are ingrained in founders, whose passion, drive and purpose are all consuming: it’s in the DNA. If the business is lucky enough to grow, that authentic culture is diluted, with communications now to a bigger audience, and a team of people who all have their own experiences and priorities. No-one loves the business like the owner (not even the best employee), nor were they part of the forging of the business with that same passion. No longer can the direction, culture and behaviour of everyone be assumed to be in the same direction, so having some kind of statement of purpose starts to become a useful thing. A version of the 10 Commandments will form boundaries and signposts as to what the point of the business is and how everyone should behave.

So for a small business does that mean a Vision? Mission? Values? Purpose? The exact format will depend on the business. Creating something unique is impossible, but creating something that that matters can be done with some persistence. I have seen many of these and to be honest they all have pretty much the same concepts: innovation, customer-first, respect, honesty, going the extra mile, collaboration and integrity in some form. The end result should some type of statement that defines the reason that the business exists, what is the purpose, how everyone should behave and what the business wants to achieve. It is easy to get caught up in exact formats, but in a few examples I have included below you will see that they vary in style and length. To make it work, create something in the style of the business that speaks to everyone.

The early days of the business is a great time to start collecting ideas, when the owners are most passionate, see the problems in the industry with fresh eyes and want to change the status quo; statements don’t need to be finished at this time, but capturing the essence then and there is useful whilst passion is high. Have fun with it.

The Little Potato Company Core Purpose

Save the potato. Feed the world, better.

Everyone, everywhere deserves to have healthy, great food. We believe that millions of people are either not getting enough food or getting too much of the wrong food. So we are on a mission to better feed the world.

Potatoes are one of the world’s most efficient crops. Not only are they good for you, they are good for the environment.

By going back to the potato’s roots we have uncovered the same types of potato varieties first cultivated – small, highly nourishing, diverse and packed with flavor. Our goal is to cultivate potatoes that are again full of flavor and bursting with nutrition.

This amazing vegetable is a gift and we see it as our job to bring the potato back to its original glory.

Twitter Mission statement

To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

Zappos 10 Core Values

1. Deliver WOW Through Service

2. Embrace and Drive Change

3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness

4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

5. Pursue Growth and Learning

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8. Do More with Less

9. Be Passionate and Determined

10. Be Humble

Whole Foods Market Higher Purpose Statement

With great courage, integrity and love—we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities, and our planet can flourish. All the while, celebrating the sheer love and joy of food.

When to use them.

If you get it right, everyone in the business will be using parts of your statements every day anyway: not in a cheesy, born-again kind of way, but the statements capture the essence of your business and say what you already do.

The crucial time for the team, is to assess potential team members before hiring; measure the potentials against your statements to see if they fit. If the team member doesn’t fit, it’s not likely that they will change, even if you bash them over the head with company values every day. Only hire aligned people. If the team doesn’t naturally do what your statements say, you will have an uphill battle. That counts for the business owner too: once they break the commandments everyone else will think they are meaningless.

Having a unifying statement that sets the direction of your business and behaviour of the team does work, despite what badly behaved corporates do. For small business, keep it simple and make it reflect what you actually do. Have some fun and put personality into it, otherwise it just sounds like corporate hot air – and we all know how much that counts for.