When you think about the vision and heart of your company, what comes to mind? Do your employees and 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.
A mission statement is a concise summary of your business’s purpose, values and objectives. Developing the right mission statement for your company can be a challenge, but once it’s established, it can serve as your guiding principle to ensure your workforce is aligned and to differentiate your company from your competitors.
How to write the perfect mission statement
The most effective mission statements inspire and educate. While the result is a short, concise statement, the process of developing your mission statement can be anything but brief. You can choose to involve as many or as few collaborators as you’d like, but the final message should resonate with everyone at your organization, from the founding team to your frontline workers.
Tip: Don’t stress about ensuring your mission statement can stand the test of time. Your mission statement should evolve with your business.
Follow these steps to craft an effective mission statement:
1. Incorporate three key elements.
Your mission statement should incorporate three things:
- Your company’s purpose and the unique service or product it provides – to your customers, the community and employees
- The industry your company serves
- Characteristics that set your business apart from others in the industry
By defining these three elements, you’ll understand the problems your business solves, the customers you’re aiming to serve and how your business differs from your competitors. One way to do this concisely is to share what inspired you to launch your business. Origin stories are often compelling, and incorporating the main elements of yours into the mission statement celebrates your history and future goals.
2. Be informative, yet keep it brief.
Your mission statement must function as a brief introductory statement for your company, defining your company’s purpose. Try to keep your mission statement to no more than 25 words. The longer your mission statement is, the less likely people are to read it.
3. Share, edit and refine.
Your mission statement needs to resonate with both internal and external audiences. Therefore, your mission statement creation process should include sharing your draft with applicable stakeholders – including some trusted customers, vendors and partners – to ensure the message rings true to your colleagues across the business. Be open to feedback, and tweak your messaging to ensure clarity.
A common way to ensure your mission statement aligns with all audiences is to develop one statement to share internally and another to share externally. From there, work to consolidate and polish your messaging so it applies to anyone who reads it.
The value of a mission statement
A mission statement is an often-misunderstood element of business. It’s not the same thing as a slogan, which is designed to grab customers’ attention in marketing settings, or a vision statement, which defines the trajectory of your organization. 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,” said 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.” He added that there are also fourth and fifth dimensions in some cases: what the company does for the community and for the world. [Learn more about the keys to scaling your business.]
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 work? Most experts agree that an effective mission statement answers several key questions:
- 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 the mission statement development process, but you’ll notice that each of these questions is addressed (in one way or another) in quality mission statements.
Common characteristics of strong mission statements
The easiest way to understand what makes a strong mission statement is to study successful companies’ statements, which can help you identify the common characteristics needed to develop your own.
Let’s look at three case studies and highlight a few of their commonalities. Consider these companies’ mission statements:
- 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 journeys 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.”
These companies couldn’t be more different. One sells modern bicycles, one serves fresh food, and one is a popular online eyewear company. However, each company does an effective job of revealing these common characteristics of a strong mission statement:
- It’s succinct. A good mission statement is typically between one and three sentences long. As you can see, these statements differ in 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 find this information elsewhere.
- It focuses on current objectives. Although there are some references to the past, including Sweetgreen’s mention of its founding date, the critical elements of a mission statement describe present goals. These statements effectively describe why these companies exist and whom they currently serve.
- It uses strong verbiage. Vague generalities don’t work in a mission statement. Your mission statement should rely on strong language to grab the reader’s attention and speak to your company’s true priorities. Notice some of the words used in these three examples: powerful, innovative, challenging, passion, rebellious and revolutionary. These words jump off the page.
- It’s unique. While it can be tempting to look to your competitors’ statements to provide the framework for your own, it’s very important for your mission statement to be distinct. These three mission statements are clearly one-of-a-kind.
- It’s malleable. Contrary to popular belief, a mission statement isn’t some concrete element that holds true year after year. While your company vision may remain the same, your mission statement can shift. It shouldn’t be manipulated often, but it should reflect any new opportunities or company-wide goals that arise.
- It 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. [Discover the best tools for tracking your business’s key performance indicators (KPIs).]
Did you know? Your mission statement can help attract the right talent to your business by highlighting your company’s values, which interested applicants will see when researching your company.
Wendy Maynard – a business strategist, marketing consultant and business coach – challenges every company she works with to write a mission statement that’s actionable and quantifiable, not sentimental or nebulous, as this is the only way to extract 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 said. “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.”
Connect the dots with a mission statement
A mission statement is designed to connect the dots of your business. It brings customers, employees and company leaders together under a single statement that accurately defines the business’s ethos and goals.
Don’t rush it, but the sooner you find your mission statement, the sooner you’ll truly understand and be able to communicate the purpose of your business. 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.
Larry Alton contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.