What’s the point of having a mission statement? Well, you wouldn’t start a project without a plan, right? Think of the mission statement as the plan at its highest level, overriding all other directions. It’s like a compass you can always turn to and set yourself right if you feel that you’ve gone off-course.
When you’re working on anything, the first thing you should do is create a mission statement. It creates boundaries, and it provides both a pathway to success and a sense of what it is you’re doing before you start doing it. The last thing you want is to have to stop in the middle of what you’re doing to define what it is you’re doing and why.
What Is a Mission Statement?
Socrates, according to Plato’s account, famously said, “I know that I know nothing.”
That doesn’t mean throwing up our hands and saying, “Well, I don’t know, so why bother?” It means starting at the beginning and developing a set of ethics to live by based on what you can observe or test as fact against what’s important for you as a person.
That’s heavy, admittedly, but it applies to any project or any business. At first, you don’t know. That’s where the mission statement comes in. It’s the document that comes from the processes of figuring out what is the reason for your organization or project.
Mission Statement vs. Vision Statement vs. Value Statement
There’s usually three of these statements that any business must understand before they start to have a lodestar leading them forward. There’s a value statement, which outlines what the company stands for, and there’s a vision statement, which looks towards to the future and states where you want to be in five, 10 or whatever number of years.
Then there’s the mission statement. It differs from the other two in that it clearly states what it is that your organization does or why it exists. These are existential questions that might seem odd for a company to have to address, but like a person, a company must recognize its purpose in order to be successful. This purpose should be succinct and address the present. A mission statement is distilled to the essence of why your company exists, and it’s usually only a sentence or two.
Your mission statement is a reflection of you and your company, of course. They can vary wildly from organization to organization. But they always answer the following two questions: what does your business do, and who does it benefit?
What Makes A Good Mission Statement?
A good mission statement is short, to the point and memorable. It’s like a tagline in advertising, something that sticks with a person when they hear or read it. In a true sense, the mission statement is an ad in that it identifies your company as one that a customer would want to work with or support.
That said, the mission statement can differ depending on the business. If your company is already branded and its reason is obvious, then the mission statement is less important. People know already. That doesn’t make the mission statement irrelevant, though, especially if there’s competition from which you want to differentiate yourself.
But even if your company stands alone and is so unique that it’s unmistakable what its purpose for being is, a mission statement can still be important. That’s because a mission statement informs not only your customers who you are and why you are, but your employees within your organization as well. It’s surprising how important it is to have that identity clearly defined to maintain quality.
A mission statement motivates employees to work at a certain standard. Far and few between are those companies that generate that sort of excitement in their workforce simply by name alone. Most organizations need a mission statement for definition and to rally the troops around.
What Goes into a Mission Statement?
- Long-Term Goals: While not a vision statement, the mission statement will reflect the long-term goals of your company. That includes what the company stands for, making it clear to its employees, its stakeholders and those outside the organization, such as customers, retailers, etc. Summarize your priorities, and make sure the statement reflects company culture. But take your time; don’t rush the process.
- Value, Inspiration, Plausibility and Specificity: These four elements are critical to a successful mission statement. All these elements need to be relayed in only a couple of sentences, which illustrate the value of the company and serve as inspiration, while remaining plausible and specific.
- Ask Yourself: What does your team expect from the company? Who are your customers? How can you help them? What values are important to the company? Do you have a set of beliefs or morals? Do you adhere to an ethical standard? What are your founding principles? What do you aspire to? How do you define success? How is your company unique?
- Present Tense: Remember, vision statements are about the future. Mission statements stay firmly in the present: who you are and what’s important to you, now. Be timely, explain who you are today and do so clearly.
- Be Concise: You’re not writing a novel, so there’s no need for nuance. It’s a short, punchy summary of your company’s unique position. One or two sentences is the limit. Add more than that, and you’re mudding the waters. Keep paring it down until you have the base elements, but make sure it’s still memorable and effective.
- Be Holistic: The mission statement isn’t coming from the C-level executives but reflects everyone in the organization. It’s more comprehensive this way and gets buy-in from everyone. Each employee is part of the company process and, therefore, everyone is invested in its success.
- Version One: Mission statements are not chiseled in stone. They’re meant to reflect the time and place in which they were created. But, times change and so should mission statements. Company’s evolve and their mission statements need to change with them.
Examples of Mission Statements
You probably know a lot of mission statements without realizing it. Here’s a little bit of inspiration to whet your creative whistle.
- Coca-Cola: “To refresh the world, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness, and to create value and make a difference.”
- Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- The Humane Society: “Creating animals, confronting cruelty.”
- NASA: “We reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.”
- Smithsonian: “The increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
- American Express: “We work hard every day to make American Express the world’s most respected service brand.”
- Nordstrom: “To give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.”
- JetBlue: “To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.”
- PayPal: “To build the web’s most convenient, secure, cost-effective payment solutions.”
- Kickstarter: “To help bring creative projects to life.”
- Forbes: “To deliver information on the people, ideas and technologies changing the world to our community of affluent business decision makers.”
- Sony: “To be a company that inspires and fulfills your curiosity.”
- Cisco: “Shape the future of the internet by creating unprecedented value and opportunity for our customers, employees, investors and ecosystem partners.”
- Toyota: “To attract and attain customers with high-value products and services and the most satisfying ownership experience in America.”
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