Why vision and mission statements do not result in maximum growth and impact: The north star principle

By Jeroen Bolluijt

4 essential takeaways from this article

• Social enterprises that want to avoid getting lost in daily operations and instead maximise their impact need to look beyond their vision and mission statements and define their “north star”.

• Your north star is a fixed destination that you are trying to reach as the world changes around you.

• It is the singular reason your impact business exists. Your actions should have a single purpose, to get to your destination by creating maximum impact as fast as possible.

• It should be clearly defined in a sentence that includes the problem you are taking on, a deadline, and what the world will look like once you are done.

As a social impact business, it is not enough to be dedicated to a world-saving mission, do your best and see where you land. You need to have a guiding light to return to when you lose your way.

Remember the movie Moana? If you have young kids like I do you have probably seen it 100 times. Moana, a Pacific Islander girl, takes on a stubborn demi-god (appropriately voiced by The Rock) and her own self-doubt as she attempts to restore balance to a world threatened by dark forces. Moana faces impossible hurdle after impossible hurdle but finds her way back to her path with the help of the stars in the night sky.

Every social impact business needs a north star

Viewed from Earth’s northern hemisphere, the North Star, otherwise known as Polaris, appears to stay still while the night sky turns around it. Metaphorically speaking, your north star is a fixed destination that you are trying to reach as the world changes around you.

It is more than a vision statement that details where you want to end up and a mission statement that details how you will get there. It is a tangible reason for being, a daily direction reset and a brightly burning symbol of hope.

The importance of clearly defining your north star

Most of the vision and mission statements I read tend to be generic clusters of lines written for marketing brochures, websites and annual reports. They are far from north star material, and in the worst cases their readers are more likely to get lost within them, rather than find their way back to their cause. Your North Star needs to inspire you, to pull you up out of the weeds of daily operations and thrust you back in the right direction.

A true north star is a statement that keeps you going in difficult times, a sentence that reminds you why you started or joined the company in the first place. Try this one on for size: “We are committed to ending acute malnutrition for over 3 million individuals in sub-Saharan Africa before 2030”.

Make your north star definition shine

Create your north star definition by combining the following three components of your social impact business into one clear, concise sentence:

• The problem you are taking on

• How long you give yourself to solve it

• What the world will look like once you are done

For instance, Michelle Obama is “dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams”. Her statement is concise, time-bound and inspiring.

The north star definition is more than a guiding mechanism to help you make decisions along the way. It is the singular reason your impact business exists. Your actions should have a single purpose, to get to your destination by creating maximum impact as fast as possible.

So, what’s your north star?

Please feel welcome to share your north star, or examples of stellar north star definitions from other companies so that we can recognise their brilliance and learn from them.