Starbucks doesn’t have a sexy mission—which is why it’s successful.
Successful companies make a distinction between mission and purpose. Mission is what an organization does. Starbucks sells coffee. Not very sexy. Purpose is why a company exists. For Starbucks, it’s experiencing the third place. Sexy. Faith communities often conflate the two, however, creating a mish-mash that makes it hard to measure success.
Starbucks’ purpose gets its punch from a book written by Ray Oldenburg, titled The Great, Good Place. In the 1980s, Oldenburg recognized how few Americans experienced community anymore. In researching cities such as Milwaukee, he saw how people used to experience it in three settings—home, workplace, and a local pub or coffeehouse. Oldenburg coined the phrase “third place” to describe how a coffeehouse could be the third setting for community.1 This became Starbucks’ purpose, which sounds sexier than its mission, selling coffee. But Starbucks doesn’t conflate the two. It assembles evidence in both—quantitative or qualitative—to track progress. Here’s why.
In his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein writes that whatever an organization most often measures becomes its real mission.2 For example, in the recent auto bailouts, Washington, GM, and the unions defined success as saving jobs. Will Durant founded GM to sell cars. That was the original mission, even though it doesn’t sound very sexy. By changing how it measures success, GM also changed its mission. This is called mission drift, an indicator of organizational decline.
The decline is due to a progression. Schein says mission creates organizational culture and culture determines the means an organization uses to achieve its mission. The progression is measure, mission, means. When saving jobs became GM’s measure of success, it became the mission, creating a culture where bailouts are considered the best means of sustaining the organization. Mission drift is why right measurements matter.
In the faith community, the problem of incorrect measurements plays out a little differently. Mission is tactical; purpose is transcendent. Faith communities are drawn to transcendence, so they tend to conflate mission and purpose into one sweeping statement. Often cobbled together by committee, these proclamations sound like they’re straight out of Proust (Marcel Proust’s longest sentence was said to be 958 words: “Their honor precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable…”). Granted, mixing mission and purpose has sex appeal. But it masks the problem of not quantitatively measuring the tactical, or mission, which is not very sexy.
When God sent the Jews into Babylonian exile, he gave them an unsexy mission: assist Babylonian institutions. In Daniel 1, king Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel and give them this mission: “serve in the king’s court.” Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were to assist Babylonian institutions. Doesn’t sound sexy, does it? It wasn’t. But they could measure it.
The sizzle is in purpose, found in Jeremiah 29:7: “as Babylon flourishes, so shall you.” Loving God and neighbor by promoting flourishing sounds sexy, doesn’t it? Purpose is inspiring—and how a purpose statement should sound. But it doesn’t lend itself to measuring as easily as mission. That’s why successful companies such as Starbucks make a distinction between mission and purpose. Faith communities generally don’t.
In not quantitatively measuring the mission of assisting institutions, most faith communities default to measuring attendance. This creates a culture where showing up on Sunday matters the most. Culture then determines the means used to achieve the mission of showing up, such as pouring resources into a service that keeps ‘em coming back. By measuring attendance, the real mission of the church has drifted from assisting institutions to bigger is better. When attendance falls off, faith communities resort to special pleading or passing the plate, indicative of organizational decline.
There is no doubt that measuring success can be problematic. “Not everything that counts can be counted,” Albert Einstein rightly noted, “and not everything that can be counted counts.”3 There is an element of mystery in the service of God and faithfulness counts as much as fruitfulness. It’s not entirely muddled however. It can be measured. The faith community can count whether it is assisting local institutions in lowering crime rates, out of wedlock birthrates, divorce rates, or the annual number of abortions performed. It can assess whether it is assisting local institutions in raising reading levels, work that my wife Kathy does as a reading specialist. The school administration is serious about its mission. It is continually finding ways to measure success and stay on mission.
In his monograph to Good to Great, Jim Collins says the not-for-profit social sector typically fails to measure success in meaningful ways. His solution is for institutions to hold themselves accountable for progress in mission and purpose. “What matters is that you rigorously assemble evidence—quantitative or qualitative—to track your progress.”4 This isn’t difficult. Any church can create two statements, one for mission and another for purpose. A mission of assisting local institutions won’t sound very sexy but will lend itself more readily to meaningful measurements than transcendent aims such as flourishing and renewing the city. The church needs both, just as Starbucks distinguishes between mission and purpose, measuring both. It just recognizes there’s nothing wrong with having a mission that’s not very sexy.
1 Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day (New York, NY: Marlowe & Co., 1999).
2 Edgar Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Third Edition (New York, NY: Wiley Publishers, 2004)
3 Cited by Scott Thorpe, How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2000), p. 3.
4 Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (Boulder: www.jimcollins.com, 2003)