Why A Manifesto Drives Lasting Impact

Jessica Herman & Kate Thiel

Now more than ever, people are craving purpose and meaning in their lives.

The future feels unpredictable, and while at A Hundred Years, we’re convinced that optimism could save us, many people are understandably overwhelmed with fear. So where do we turn? People not only hope but expect more from our work, whether they work at a foundation, a nonprofit, or a large-scale corporation.

No matter what Buzzfeed might have you believe, it’s not just Millennials asking what kind of positive impact we are making on the world. Everyone—from Gen Xers to Baby Boomers, customers to employees—is opting for purpose-driven brands in every aspect of life, from how we shop to where we work.

So it was no surprise then that a company like Facebook would get out in front of the purpose issue and publish a 6,000-word manifesto to address the question, Are we building the world we all want? And how is Facebook contributing?

Let’s be clear about one thing: There are many ways organizations can bring their purpose to life, and a manifesto is just one of them.

But what is a manifesto? A manifesto is a pure signal of your intentions, guiding beliefs, and aspirations for the future. It should speak to the heart, elicit feeling, inspiration, excitement, and curiosity.

And it’s written for the organization’s current and future employees in the form of “we”—a gesture of inclusion.

Unlike mission and vision statements, which both speak to the external goals of the organization, a manifesto looks inward. It’s much more than good marketing. Our recent work with Mattel illustrated that executed well, a manifesto can become a key ingredient to driving lasting impact. Here’s why:

Successful manifestos come from the heart, humanizing the organization.

People tend think of organizations as separate from themselves and their own personal manifesto as relatively irrelevant to the organization’s direction. No matter where you work or what you do, organizations are defined by their people, so the manifesto is personal. This is why a manifesto like Holstee’s, which shows the personality of the organization more than anything else, is so effective. It’s less about the details, the specific words on the page, and more about the essence.

So why does this matter? Because ultimately, the deeper connection people feel to the organization’s aspirations, the more drive they’ll have to ensure the organization’s success.

You’ll attract and retain the talent you want and need.

At his commencement speech at Harvard’s GSD, frequent Hundred Years collaborator Bruce Mau said, “put out a clear and pure signal, be true to your voice — express your commitment, be pure, stay the course with clarity. Only by broadcasting your honest signal, telling the world who you are with truth and clarity, will the people you need be able to find you.” The same is true of a manifesto.

By clarifying what you stand for, like this New Belgium “what we’re about,” you attract people who share the same values and encourage those are aren’t aligned to leave. It makes sense then that some organizations make the manifesto-writing a collaborative effort, such as Method’s Humanifesto and Warby Parker’s beliefs. What better way to represent your employees than to have them speak for themselves?

You’ll inspire everyone—customers and employees—to get on board.

While a vision statement is about visualizing a better future and a mission statement helps you get there, successful manifestos move people to action, such as RED’s declaration about consumer choices. By clearly declaring your intentions, you offer up a north star, a direction for everyone to march toward collectively.

You’ll create a sense of accountability and transparency.

Just as some people share their resolutions publicly to hold themselves accountable, a manifesto—a public declaration of intentions—holds your organization accountable to everyone who reads it. Take for instance IKEA’s 2020 ambitious energy independence goals. By making yourself vulnerable to stick to your intentions, you ultimately engender trust and loyalty among customers and employees alike.

It serves as a litmus test for the future.

So how do you know if your manifesto is working? If it’s hitting the mark? Not only will it still ring true several years after you wrote it, but you’ll have the KPIs to prove it, from a reduction in staff turnover to increased media exposure to new types of programming.

Like a personal manifesto, your organization’s manifesto serves as a guide for the future, like a letter from your best self. A gut check and a place to return when you’re wanting to ensure your decisions align with your priorities. This is why Google uses the ’10 things’ manifesto occasionally to see how they’re doing.

Ready to start crafting your own? It’s always a good idea to learn by example, so take a spin through these manifestos: Apple. Nike. Levi’s. And Mollie West’s wonderful roundup of manifestos, capped off with a helpful exercise for writing your own. And of course, we’re here to help.