When you think about the vision and heart of your company, what comes to mind? Now, consider this question: Do your customers clearly understand these same ideas?
If not, it’s a pretty good sign that you don’t have a clear and effective mission statement.
The Value of a Mission Statement
A mission statement is a very misunderstood element of business. It’s not the same thing as a slogan, which is designed to grab the attention of customers in marketing settings, or a vision statement, which defines where your organization is going. It’s much more precise and strategic.
“Your company’s mission statement is your opportunity to define the company’s goals, ethics, culture, and norms for decision-making,” says entrepreneur Tim Berry. “The best mission statements define a company’s goals in at least three dimensions: what the company does for its customers, what it does for its employees, and what it does for its owners.” Berry admits that there are also fourth and fifth dimensions in some cases: what the company does for the community, and for the world.
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Because mission statements must cover a lot of information in a very concise format, you’ll discover that most companies have poorly worded statements that are meaningless and vague. However, if you look at successful companies, you’ll notice that their mission statements are well-crafted and incredibly valuable.
So, what makes a mission statement valuable? Well, everyone has their own opinion of what a mission statement should include, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to create a concrete mold, but most agree that an effective mission statement answers several key questions. Generally speaking, these questions include something similar to the following:
- What opportunities or needs does our company address?
- How do we address these opportunities and needs?
- Who are we serving?
- What unique value do we provide customers?
This is an oversimplified look at what companies do to develop their statements, but you’ll notice that each of these questions is addressed (in one way or another) in a quality mission statement.
Common Characteristics of Strong Mission Statements
The easiest way to understand what a strong mission statement looks like is by studying what other companies are doing. Based on their statements, you can identify the common characteristics needed to develop your own.
Let’s look at three case studies and highlight a few of the commonalities between them:
- Sixthreezero: “The bicycle is one of the most powerful movement devices in the world. Our mission is to provide an innovative bicycle experience to all adventurous souls in the world. Empowering people to embark on the most challenging journey’s in their life...one bike and one ride at a time.”
- Sweetgreen: “Founded in 2007, sweetgreen is a destination for delicious food that’s both healthy for you and aligned with your values. We source local and organic ingredients from farmers we know and partners we trust, supporting our communities and creating meaningful relationships with those around us. We exist to create experiences where passion and purpose come together.”
- Warby Parker: “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially-conscious businesses.”
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There really couldn’t be three more different companies. One sells modern bicycles, another is in the business of serving fresh food, and another is a popular online eyewear company. However, each does an effective job of revealing the common characteristics of strong mission statements. These include:
- Succinct: A good mission statement is typically between one and three sentences long. As you can see, each of these statements is a different length, but they all fit this basic parameter. If the customer or employee wants to learn more about a particular aspect of the statement, they can always find this information mapped out somewhere else.
- Present objectives: A mission statement isn’t about the past. While there are certain elements present, including Sweetgreen’s reference to their starting point in 2007 the critical elements of a mission statement describe present goals. Each of these statements does an effective job of describing why they exist and who they currently serve.
- Strong verbiage: Vague and general words don’t work well in a mission statement. In order for a statement to grab the attention of the reader and speak to the true intentions of the company, there must be strong language. Notice some of the words used in these three examples: powerful, innovative, challenging, passion, rebellious, and revolutionary. These are words that jump off the page.
- Unique: Every business has a mission statement. And while it can be tempting for companies in crowded industries to look at their competitors’ statements as frameworks for their own, it’s very important that a mission statement is unique. These three mission statements are clearly matchless and one of a kind.
- Malleable: Contrary to popular belief, a mission statement isn’t some concrete element that holds true year after year. While your company vision may always remain the same, your mission statement can definitely shift. It shouldn’t be manipulated often, but there is flexibility should new opportunities arise.
- Speaks to the “how:” Every mission statement pays respect to what a company stands for, but only the best mission statements touch on the “how” behind it. In other words, a strong mission statement doesn’t just list objectives. It indicates how these specific objectives are to be accomplished.
Wendy Maynard, strategic director and co-founder of Kinesis, a leading marketing firm, challenges every company she works with to write a mission statement that’s actionable and quantifiable, not sentimental or nebulous. This is the only way to extract any real value.
“If you have an old wonky mission statement that sounds like a corporate Hallmark Card (you know what I’m talking about), then take it and rip it to shreds,” she says. “Then reflect on your true passions and values, and write a mission statement using the guidelines above that reflects the difference your business will make in the world.”
Creating a mission statement that accurately reflects the passions and values of your business isn’t easy but the rewards for doing so are great.
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Connect the Dots With a Mission Statement
A mission statement is something that many companies fear. They’re unsure of what to say and don’t want to mess it up. And while you can read a lot of advice and study helpful examples, like the ones highlighted in this article, you eventually have to dig in and get your hands dirty.
There’s no right or wrong way to develop a mission statement. Some companies like to gather input from everyone, while others leave it up to the founding team. Some companies use a whiteboard and jot down a bunch of ideas, while others prefer a more calculated approach. The important thing is that you start working on a strong mission statement that resonates with everyone.
A mission statement is designed to connect the dots of your business. It brings customers, employees, and company leaders together under a single, succinct statement that accurately defines what the business stands for.
Don’t rush it but the sooner you find your mission statement, the sooner you’ll truly understand your business.