"America's leading advocate for oral health"

If you were to ask the CEO of the American Dental Association what its purpose is, she would tell you it is to improve oral health globally. Its purpose isn’t to help dentists specifically, or to help member dentists be more successful. They do those things, but their purpose, ultimately, is to improve oral health around the world. Now, if you asked a random staffer what their purpose is at any organization, you may not get the same answer. Certainly, if you asked several members of a random association what its purpose is, you’re unlikely to get the same answer each time. Therein lies the challenge.

The leadership at the American Dental Association very much believes in its purpose, and they plan accordingly to align with it. But the challenge is the members funding the association typically think the association’s mission is to advance the professional success of the members, improve the quality of care in their practices and so on. Members rarely think of the association’s larger purpose as a mission statement, if they think about it at all. But if you ask the association leaders why helping members matters (usually you have to ask “why” several times to peel the layers back to Core Purpose), they will likely tell you that, by helping their members be more successful in their jobs, they are advancing their Core Purpose, which in the ADA’s case is improving oral health around the globe.

Oral health is not necessarily emotionally charged for everybody. It’s an important health topic that can actually improve general health on a large scale, so improving oral health is a very meaningful purpose to have, if it’s conveyed properly. If I told you the ADA existed to improve the success of dentists, dentists would probably care about that, but few others would.

Your Core Purpose needs to be an emotionally meaningful idea to people who are both outside and inside your organization. If you were to draw a concentric circle of closeness to the center of the organization, you often find that as you get farther and farther away from the center, Core Purpose does not radiate consistently outward. But decision-making would be in line with the organization’s Core Purpose much more so than if they just relegated their purpose to a plaque in the boardroom.

That’s not the case with ADA. They do a good job of expressing their Core Purpose, but the point is organizations have a bigger opportunity with Core Purpose than many realize.

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