A mission statement is a brief statement that explains your reason for existence or purpose – what you want to accomplish.
A good mission statement helps guide you in determining your products and services because it answers the question “why?” and helps identify “what’s next?” It describes the end result; not how you will achieve it. Your strategies and goals answer the specifics of “how.”
Step 1: Determine why you want to write a mission statement. Circle the answer below:
- You think you’re supposed to have one.
- You want to use it for marketing to attract customers.
- You want to use it to guide how you treat employees and customers.
- You want to use it to provide focus for daily activities and to communicate to employees and customers what your business is.
Step 2: This next step corresponds with your selection in Step 1.
- If the only reason you want to write a mission statement is because you think you’re supposed to have one, don’t bother. It will be a waste of time.
- If you want to use it for marketing to attract customers, a short, pithy phrase is best. Think of something like “We try harder” or “Quality is job one.” One caveat: if it doesn’t accurately reflect what you really do, you will annoy, not attract customers.
- To guide behavior, instead of a mission statement, identify your values or principles. See : 5 Tips to Ensure Your Values Unify Your Team, Not divide It
- If you want to use a mission statement to provide focus, clarity for strategic decisions, and to communicate what your business is, proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Consider what you offer from your customer’s viewpoint.
1. List your products and services. What general theme do you see about what you provide? What makes you unique or differentiates you from others?
2. List who your customers are, what their needs are and what they want from you . For example, Are your customers busy people who know what they want and need quick access? Are they elderly people who are worried about their healthy and finances? Are they authors who don’t understand how to use social media to promote their book and build an online presence? Put yourself in the shoes of the people who would seek your services and ask “What problem are they seeking a solution for? What need are they trying to satisfy?”
3. Describe your business from the viewpoint of your customer. What is the purpose of your organization or team? For more information see: How to Identify Your Team or Organization’s Purpose.
Step 4: Now, write a brief statement of no more than 25 words.
In 25 words or less, write a statement that explains the unique end-result of your services or products. A stranger who reads it should be able to know immediately not what your products and services are, but what problem you will solve or what benefit you provide.
For example, Mary Parker Follett helped the window shade company determine they provide unique and decorative ways to control light and privacy.
The mission of Google is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.
Step 5: Involve others.
If there are others on your team and you want it to provide guidance for them, don’t finalize it yet. Don’t get attached to any of the words.
Involve others on your team. They may have some good thoughts you have not considered, and giving them an opportunity to participate in this process will deepen their understanding of the mission and strengthen their commitment. How it’s created is as important as what it says.
Once you have written your mission, turn it into a vision by adding in your core values and a picture of the future. Together, a mission, values and picture of the end result will create a vision that will provide a context for your strategies and goals and guidance for your daily decisions.
It’s interesting how many organizations don’t see the value in a mission statement. As economies shrink and competition gets fiercer, not being clear about your organization’s role in the market or sector makes it harder for staff to make decisions. That said, with change accelerating in pace, keeping the mission relevant requires effort.
I believe it is possible for an individual to be clear about their company’s mission without putting it into a succinct statement. And it is possible for a small group who are in frequent contact with each other to be clear without needing to write it out. However, as an organization grows, it becomes more difficult to communicate and stay focused on the mission if it is not clearly spelled out in writing. There are two good reasons to write a mission statement – 1) the process of writing a mission statement helps you get clear about your mission and 2) it helps communicate your mission to other (both internally and externally). Your question about whether the mission might need to change over time is an interesting one. It would need to be reconsidered if the fundamentals changed. If not, then most likely what would need to change would be the strategy. As always, thanks for your insightful and thought-provoking comments, Alan.
I like the way you positioned this. People and Organizations create mission statements for many reason, several which you have identified. Too often it is a piece of paper that really means nothing. I agree with you, if they are doing it because they think they should, Don’t Bother.
Glad you like it, Calla. So many people jump into the task of writing a mission statement as though it’s a… well, a task – something to be checked off on a to-do list.
Your so right here. Most companies look at the mission statement as something they need- to check the box! The challenge is to actually USE the mission statement as a litmus test against everything you do. I believe the real exposure is money. Mission statements don’t typically read “Our goal is to make as much money as possible”, yet so many important decisions become locked purely on dollars. Thanks for the reminder and the checklist!
So true. The irony is that when a leader thinks the purpose of their organization is to make money, they actually make less money in the long-run. Thanks for sharing your insights, Joe.
One of the biggest challenges for companies in writing mission statements seems to be Step 3 point #1, Jesse — identifying what differentiates them from their competition. How many times have we come across mission statements that talk about superior customer service (like anyone intends to deliver crap customer service, sigh!), to be the leader in their market, or worse (as Joe implies): maximize shareholder value?
Still, there is danger in trying to be too fanciful, as Bernard Marr pointed out in a recent LinkedIn article on this topic. Apparently Hilton intends “To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” As Bernard goes on to say, “I spend an awful lot of time in Hilton Hotels each year and I know that ‘filling the earth with light…’ is definitely a little far fetched when you get corporate hotel rooms that have the same sterile feeling all over the globe.” Gives us all a giggle though, doesn’t it?
One other thing that I think many organizations are confused about is the difference between a mission and a vision statement: i.e., articulating who they serve, why, and what outcomes they achieve for that market currently (mission or purpose) versus the intentions they hold for what they want to achieve in the future (vision). Given that most human beings are poor at predicting what’s going to happen next week, let alone five or ten years’ time you’d think that most companies would be on safer ground with their present-time purpose. Sadly, it seem they are not 🙂
All excellent points, Liz. It seems to me the problem with the Hilton statement resides in Step 2 – it’s a marketing message that isn’t in sync with reality. The trick is to accurately reflect what truly differentiates and defines you, without simply listing your products and services. Hopefully the examples I gave demonstrate what that can look like. I agree people are greatly confused between a vision and a mission. My own definition is “A vision is a results-oriented picture of a possible future you intend to create that illuminates your purpose (mission) and values.” A vision is not just a picture of the end- result. That is a goal. A vision answers, “What’s next” and guides decision making in setting new goals after a goal is achieved.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Liz, and deepening the conversation.
Crisp and to the point Jesse. If people could be fined for violating these five steps, you’d be able to buy yourself an island in the Caribbean. Thank you for sharing and also giving me a kick in the backside on one important thing I have been putting off.
Well, I wish these steps weren’t violated so often, but I certainly would enjoy an island in the Caribbean. Glad to give you a kick when you need it, Kimunya 🙂
How about this for an idea: To be a catalyst for lasting transformation that builds great leaders through a compelling, inspiring, and visionary mentorship program.
Hi Jack, I assume this is your mission statement. It’s an excellent example of how to integrate guiding values into the mission statement.
To ensure the mentorship program is “compelling”, “inspiring” and “visionary,” each of these values needs to be clearly defined to they can be used to craft the program and to guide decision-making. They can be articulated in a separate values statement, embedded in a vision statement, or included as an addendum to your mission statement. The only question I have is what is the transformation that you catalyzing? Is it a transformation that builds great leaders or are you transforming leaders?
Hi Jesse, this is a great follow up to the Vision series. I especially like and agree with your point that a Mission statement should reveal what problem you will solve or what benefit you provide.
Mission statements should not be designed to hang on the wall, but to live in the heart of each person in the organization.
Indeed. Too often mission statements are either a boring list of service and products or a fluffy, generic meaningless statement. That’s why Dilbert has so much fun with them. Love your point that a mission statement should be design to live in the heart of each person in the organization. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Dan.
As always, a great post! You nailed it in step 4: write your mission statement in 25 words or less. As I browsed through some of the other comments, I think the challenges they brought up could be answered if they took that 25 word rule and applied it to their business and product. If they can’t spit out their mission statement in a few words, they’ve got trouble with their mission. It takes HARD WORK to reduce a entire business into a pithy short paragraph that sums it all up…I often think that is the place people should start when they want to tell others who and what they (or their business) is about. As Bill Clinton said, “My book would have been much shorter if I’d had more time.
Excellent point. You remind me of the quote by Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Thanks for sharing your insights, LaRae.
Thanks for these very practical steps! Really helpful.
Something about step 4 [the unique end-result of your services or products]:
Goal-framing theory argues that we all have a particular overarching goal which governs all kinds of subgoals and thereby change what we prefer and how we act… – organizations also have an overarching goal. The way we specify “our unique end-result” indicates what type of overarching goal we pursue.
There are three type overarching goals:
1. an hedonic goal [a desire to improve or preserve how you feel],
2. a gain goal [a desire to improve or preserve one’s resources], and
3. a normative goal [a desire to act appropriately in the service of a collective].
If a company sets a gain goal, it sends a signal “down” through the organisation that top management is in a gain goal frame. And due to the contagion effect of these overarching goals, this means that the gain goal frame will spread throughout the organisation. A company with a gain goal such as “maximise profitability” will typically end up providing less value for its shareholders than a company with a normative goal frame, which gives precedence to goals other than profitability and shareholder return. So, be careful how you specify your end-result 🙂
Hi Lammert, I appreciate your bringing goal-framing theory into the conversation and your warning is well-taken. Your comments reinforce the importance of doing Step 3 correctly before moving to Step 4. If one has identified what they provide from the view of their customer’s needs, their mission can not be about profitability. My co-author, Ken Blanchard says profit is “the applause you get for satisfying your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people.” Excellent point about how goals signal down through the organization.
Thanks for a great post. In particular, I like Question 1. It demands that we know why we want a mission statement before we begin. I wish more organizations asked those types of bedrock questions before launching into some grand exercise identifying not only mission, but values, and vision.
Thanks, Rick. If more leaders answered question 1 before embarking on the exercise of writing a mission statement, a lot of time (and paper) would be saved. However, and I know you agree, Step 5 is just as important. What’s important is not just what it says, but also how it is created.