The power of purpose: The purpose statement reflects personal and dental team objectives

Jan. 16, 2017
Dorothy Garlough, RDH, believes in a spirit of collaboration among dental team members in developing a purpose statement.

By Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

Last month, I wrote about creating values for a wholearchical (person-centered) team. Values are just one aspect of creating an office constitution to address the rights and expectations within the "republic" of the team. Another vital element is the purpose statement, which pinpoints why you are here. Purpose gives meaning to both your private life and your work life and is the driver that leads to remarkable results.

Janusz Korczak, who inspired the development of wholearchy through his example, clearly had purpose in his life. As the founder of an orphanage in the 1930s, he took his responsibilities seriously. When ultimatums were presented, he chose to die with the Jewish children in a Nazi concentration camp rather than abandon them. His ultimate sacrifice demonstrated his purpose to provide care and protection for his charges, and his commitment to his purpose resonates even today.

Why seek your purpose

Your deeply held core purpose is what gives you a strong sense of identity both personally and professionally. It is what gives life meaning.1 It pinpoints what makes you unique and powerful. It is the driver to improve, endure sacrifice and discomfort, and to sustain a path, even when it is difficult and wrought with challenges. Purpose is about working to achieve something greater than you. It is the feeling that you are making a difference and it is this very difference that brings satisfaction and fulfillment to living. The motivational leader Tony Robbins says, "Happiness doesn't come from what you have but from who you become." Those who live with purpose are clear in what they stand for, and are aligned and congruent. This makes them a magnet to what they need in life to fulfill their purpose.

Many people are unclear on their purpose in life. This can leave them feeling rudderless, wandering in many directions, without ever feeling that progress is being made. Taking the time to fearlessly introspect and practice mindfulness will offer direction. Clarifying what you stand for and what you believe will help you discover who you really are. Asking pointed questions will offer insights; providing honest answers will reveal your truth. Ask questions such as, What is important to you and why? How can you make a difference? What are your stance, your vision for change, and your voice? What is your legacy going to be? What are the stories people are going to tell when you're gone? Is there anything to say at all? If not, what would you like to be said?

What you reveal as important to you will reveal who you are and who you want to become. It will give you the fire in your heart to accomplish whatever is important to you. When you take the time to discover your personal purpose, you answer the question of what you can offer. This offering becomes powerful when you not only incorporate it in your personal life but also your professional life. You must ask how can you meld your own personal purpose with your office purpose.

Three-way relationship

The purpose statement in a wholearchy's constitution is a three-way relationship. When each individual determines their purpose on a personal level and then collectively, the office discovers its purpose, and an empowered, person-centered team is created. This holistic alignment will be satisfying for all members of the team. Team members have meaningful reasons for showing up to work and bringing their best to the workplace. The result is mutually beneficial to each individual team member, the office, and society.

People fundamentally want to know that what they are doing serves a greater purpose. A person-centered team's purpose will identify why it exists.2 Additionally, it will define the team. The meaning of what you do for your patients, and the service promise you make, will anchor everyone in daily activities. Looking to find a way to express the office's impact on the lives of patients will lend power to your purpose. A strong purpose statement in dentistry will be the glue that holds the office together as it grows, develops, and expands. The purpose statement will reflect the importance the team attaches to the office's work-it taps their idealistic motivations3-and gets at the deeper reasons for the office's existence beyond just making money.

One such example of a company's purpose statement comes from Greg Ellis, former CEO and managing director of REA Group, a real-estate business. The purpose statement of REA Group is "to make the property process simple, efficient, and stress free for people buying and selling a property." This insightful purpose not only emphasizes the importance of serving customers but also puts employees in customers' shoes. It answers what they do for others and is motivational by connecting with the heart and the head. A clear understanding of how a person's job contributes to their company's reason for being is a powerful form of emotional compensation.

To be effective, a statement of purpose should be the following:

  • Specific and precise, arriving at your core message
  • Concise, one or two sentences • Clear, easily understood • Goal oriented, stating desired outcomes

A few other examples of companies with strong purpose statements are Kellogg's ("Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive"), 3M ("To solve unsolved problems innovatively"), Merck ("To preserve and improve human life"), and Walt Disney ("To make people happy").

A core purpose is bigger than a charismatic leader, product, service, team, or technology. Defining your core purpose is all about clarity, genuineness, and alignment. It doesn't have to sound impressive on a billboard or as a tagline. It does, however, have to be meaningful to your office.

Of course, your team knows that their day-to-day responsibilities boil down to tangible, tactical, productive work. But when they know that their daily work is part of the bigger vision, they are more driven to show up every day on time and do their job well.

How do you identify your core purpose?

Business leaders Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, authors of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, identify five important characteristics of a company's core purpose:

  • It's inspiring to those inside the company.
  • It's something that will be as valid 100 years from now as it is today.
  • It should help you think expansively about what you could do but aren't doing.
  • It should help you decide what not to do.
  • It's truly authentic to your company.

Here are some of the questions that can help you determine your core purpose.5 Why does your office's existence matter? What is your most important reason for being here? Why? What would be lost if this office ceased to exist? Why are you important to the people you serve? Why would anyone dedicate his or her precious time, energy, and passion to your office?

Being clear about the direction the office is going and its alignment with your personal purpose frees you to contribute and adapt in ways that are meaningful to both your professional and personal lives. Being clear on your own purpose places you in a better position to identify how you can partner with your office to clarify its purpose. Discovering who your team is as a group allows freedom for individual contribution. Finding your purpose will enable team members the liberty to serve the greater cause of the office. They will know that their ability to respond and grow becomes a capability of the wholearchy. This, in turn, leads to success for the office and fulfillment for the entire team. RDH


1. Sagiv L, Schwartz SH. Value priorities and subjective well-being: direct relations and congruity effects. Europ J Soc Psy. 2000;30(2):177-198.
2. Wrzesniewski A, McCauley C, Rozin P, Schwartz B. Jobs, careers, and callings: people's relations to their work. J Res Pers. 1997;31(1):21-33.
3. Kenny G. Your company's purpose is not its vision, mission, or values. Harvard Business Review website. Published September 3, 2014. Accessed November 29, 2016.
4. Developing a purpose statement. Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma website. Accessed November 29, 2016.
5. Maynard W. How to discover your company's core purpose. Kinesis website. Published December 23, 2014. Accessed November 29, 2016.

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change within dentistry. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation, and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] or visit