Start with “why”


Consider this:

  • Most employees in most organizations are not engaged or inspired
  • Most people and organizations define themselves by WHAT they do — their tasks and activities
  • People are inspired by having a clear sense of purpose, of knowing WHY
  • Pharmacy owners can inspire employees by providing a clear, compelling sense of purpose

Many businesses have mission statements that state what the organization does and where it is headed. Yet, even with mission statements to provide direction, studies show that a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged1 and 80% of Americans do not have their dream job.2 Having a mission statement is clearly not good enough to engage or inspire people.

In a Harvard Business Review article,3 consultant Graham Kenny provided definitions of several common business terms:

Business TermDefinition
MissionDescribes what business the organization is in.
VisionDepicts what the organization wishes to be like in the future.
ValuesDescribes the desired culture and behaviors.
PrinciplesGives employees a set of directions.
PurposeSays what the organization is doing for someone else. Is motivating in connecting the heart and the head.

Kenny advises that when crafting a purpose statement, “To inspire your staff to do good work for you, find a way to express the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, students, patients — whomever you’re trying to serve. Make them feel it.”

To inspire, start with why

Author, speaker and leadership expert Simon Sinek has written, “If more knew how to build organizations that inspire, we could live in a world . . . in which over 80% of people loved their jobs.”

Sinek’s TED talk “How great leaders inspire action,” has been viewed by over 30 million people, and he explains that most people and organizations define themselves by stating what they do. Then, they explain how they do it. Only rarely does a person or organization explain why their business exists. Sinek refers to this as the golden circle, where people typically proceed from what to how to why.

In contrast, inspiring leaders and companies reverse the sequence. They start by first explaining why they exist, then they explain how they do it, and only then do they explain what they do. They start with why. Sinek’s philosophy is simple: “People don’t buy what we do; they buy why we do it.”

Purpose vs. mission

The Disney Institute sees an important distinction between traditional mission statements (“what we do”) and organizations that have a sense of purpose (“why we do it”).4

Disney’s focus on purpose goes back to Walt Disney’s dream when creating Disneyland. One of Disney’s advisers said, “My goal, as I saw it, was to get everyone we hired to share an intangible dream, and not just work for a paycheck.” The intangible dream Disney embraced was “to create happiness for others.” That sense of purpose applied to everyone at Disney regardless of their role, from those who interacted with guests to those parking cars or sweeping the floors. The Disney Institute has guidance on the difference between mission and purpose, which is similar to Sinek’s focus on why.5

What we do
Why we do it
  • Operating a business
  • Strategic
  • Motivational
  • Creates “buy in”
  • Provides focus
  • Building a company
  • Laying bricks
  • Parking cars
  • Sharing a dream
  • Cultural
  • Aspirational (True North)
  • Instills “ownership”
  • Fuels passion
  • Building a community
  • Building cathedrals
  • Creating happiness

Purpose for small businesses and pharmacies

Having and communicating a purpose may sound like something just for large companies, but that’s not the case. John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, a marketing consulting firm focused on small businesses, has written, “I believe the purpose of a business is to create and keep purpose,”6 and David Brown, CEO of, recently wrote, “Purpose will guide your small business.”7

For independent pharmacy owners in today’s highly competitive marketplace, every day is filled with a host of challenges. At times, the big picture gets lost in fighting day-to-day fires.

Throughout these challenges, it is important to be guided by an overriding sense of purpose, which might be about serving others or helping customers live happy, healthy lives. Having a clear sense of purpose helps attract employees, shows employees and customers what you stand for, and aligns everyone at your pharmacy. It will be evident to customers, can increase engagement and satisfaction among staff, and can help drive growth.

Steps for creating and communicating a purpose statement

  • Think back to why you went into the pharmacy business in the first place. What were your emotions? Your motivation?
  • Answer the question, “Why does my business exist?” The answer is likely to be about more than just making money, but serving patients, helping them live healthy lives, and enhancing your community.
  • Craft a simple, clear purpose statement that conveys exactly why your business exists, with a focus on whom you are serving and what you are doing for them.
  • Communicate this purpose frequently to employees and customers, in multiple ways.

These steps can educate, motivate and align everyone around a loftier goal than merely increasing sales or margins. It reminds everyone why they come to work each day and why they give extra effort.



1 “The Engaged Workplace,” Gallup Employee Engagement; LINK
2 “Mission Versus Purpose: What’s the Difference,” Disney Institute, April 23, 2015; LINK
3 “Your Company’s Purpose Is Not Its Vision, Mission, or Values,” Harvard Business Review, September 3, 2014; LINK
4 “Mission Versus Purpose: What’s the Difference,” Disney Institute, April 23, 2015; LINK
5 Ibid.
6 “The Purpose of a Business,” John Jantsch, Duct Tape Marketing; LINK
7 “Purpose and Passion: The Pillars of Small Business Success,” The Huffington Post, May 18, 2016; LINK


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