A mission statement is a summary description of a company’s core purpose. It should be clear, powerful and broad enough to guide your decision-making. It is important to take the time to draft this brief document carefully, and then, when it is as powerful as it can be, it should be included in all company communications – website, brochures, annual reports, etc. – and posted prominently about the workplace. It should also be internalised by all staff. You should be able to ask any staff member at any time to recite the mission statement, and be delighted with their response.
A mission statement answers the question “Why do we exist?” describing what the company does and for whom. The mission statement articulates the company’s purpose both for those in the organization and for the public.
The mission statement is also the framework within which strategic decisions are made. It is designed to help those involved in the business concentrate on the overall goals of the organization and to facilitate decision-making that is focused on the intended, shared and agreed direction of the company.
The philosophy and ideals of the business, apart from profit-making, should be set out in your mission statement.
Please note, though, that a mission statement is different from a vision statement. The latter is aspirational, focusing on the future and intended to inspire the team toward lofty goals. A mission statement, in contrast, answers the questions ‘What does your company stand for? What do you do, and for whom?’ Both statements are future-focused, but in different ways; whereas a vision statement describes an ideal future, a mission statement points the direction toward that future.
Your mission statement has to do three crucial things:
- Explain what business you are in (for customers and other stakeholders)
- Provide motivation and a shared sense of purpose
- Provide specific focus and a clear signpost for the future
It may seem self-evident, but a mission statement must be inarguably true. That is, it should be credible to both employees and customers and embrace your company’s core excellence without exaggeration or hype.
Where did Jerry McGuire go wrong?
In the Tom Cruise film, Jerry McGuire writes a ‘mission statement’ that is over 5,000 words long! No wonder he lost his job! As in many things in business, brevity in a mission statement is the soul of wit. Strive for a mission statement of from one to three short sentences. There’s no absolute rule here, but once the statement achieves the three goals above, it has done its job.
Crafting a Mission Statement
For your first draft, try following this template:
Our mission is …
[ To provide, deliver, offer, etc. ]
[ your product or service ] for
[ succinct description of your customers ] by
[ your business process ] never forgetting
[ lofty statement about excellence, satisfaction, etc. ]
Using the template, with appropriate adaptation, our Mission Statement … eventually:
“To help mentors unremittingly place strategic planning and especially implementation at the heart of their clients’ business development”
Of course, every company is different, and trying to squeeze your statement precisely into this template may result in awkward wording, so redraft it as many times as necessary until it reads smoothly and naturally. It may, for example be necessary to break it into two or even three complete sentences to avoid awkwardness or confusion.
If you don’t have the skills in-house, it may be worthwhile investing in a skilled copywriter for this vital exercise.
Once you have crafted a mission statement you are happy with, then live by it!
- Take it to the world
- Consistently communicate it to everyone
- Do nothing that will compromise it
- Regularly ‘measure’ how well you are conforming to the mission ‘ideals’
- Get feedback from the team, customers, etc.
Example Mission Statements
Let’s look closer at a few corporate mission statements, to see what makes them tick, or crash and burn, as the case may be.
“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
Thinking big, but credibly, Google declares its intention to organise and make available all information for the benefit of all people.
“At IBM, we strive to lead in the invention, development and manufacture of the industry’s most advanced information technologies, including computer systems, software, storage systems and microelectronics. We translate these advanced technologies into value for our customers through our professional solutions, services and consulting businesses worldwide”
No question here about what IBM does, nor about their future goals. They also clearly delineate their three main offerings. The turn of phrase ‘translate … into value’ is truly inspired.
“Our strategic intent is to help people find better ways to do great work … by constantly leading in document technologies, products and services that improve our customers’ work processes and business results”
This starts with a lofty and general declaration, but then becomes more specific about what they provide – a real challenge for a diverse, global company.
“To get clean water to poor people”
Crystal clear. Brevity, here, truly is the soul of wit.
“Maintaining a global viewpoint, we are dedicated to supplying products of the highest quality, yet at a reasonable price for worldwide customer satisfaction”
So. Their products (could be anything) offer high quality at a reasonable price, and please everyone in the world. Is there a multinational in the world that couldn’t use this statement?
“3M’s commitment is to actively contribute to sustainable development through environmental protection, social responsibility and economic progress. To us, that means meeting the needs of society today, while respecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs”
Credibility is crucial. This makes 3M sound like an environmental charity. Nothing here about what they actually do, or for whom.
“Providing solutions in real time to meet our customers’ needs”
This one wins the Vague & Meaningless prize. They give ‘solutions’ to ‘customers.’ And they do it in ‘real time!’ As opposed to what?
But … please note …
Don’t take these latter relatively poor examples to mean that a mission statement is unimportant.
These are huge, successful companies, and can afford to miss the kinds of PR and motivational opportunities a powerful mission statement generates.