Developing an Effective Mission Statement

Business leaders and marketing teams often feel compelled to create a system of aspirational statements to represent the spirit of their brand and serve as a lighthouse for their company. Whether you favor right-brain or left-brain thinking, you might view this practice differently. To one group, it’s a vital practice to protect the soul of the company while bringing unity and inspiration to the team. To the other, it’s probably a complete waste of time. In this article, we’ll explore this topic, and you can determine what your company needs.

Let me start by saying this: You do not need a mission statement.

This is perhaps one of the most un–branding firm things to say, but it’s a reasonable view. To have a mission statement, one must first have a mission. So often, organizations favor the notion that their company must have a mission statement, overlooking the reason why mission statements became a practice to begin with.

A mission statement is like an instrument without a song. Like a tactic without a strategy. It has little if any value until there is a prime directive that someone can know and understand without having to know a word of any written statement.

Recently on a trek into a small-town community, I came across a mission statement that was more successful than countless others. It was quite clearly a community garden, with a small archway to enter the space with an inscription above it.

“A place for residents to find a way to grow their own produce.”

It gets right to the point. It tells you exactly why this community garden exists, and if you are inclined to value self-sustaining communities, it inspires you to get involved in what they are doing (tip: this means you are part of their target market, not your persona).

Oh no! It’s not very clever! Well, I’m here to tell you, that is okay.

Catchy marketing statements are great…until clever becomes the enemy of clarity. A successful mission statement is easy to understand. They should be simple, and they should get to the point. If you can’t get people to take action, your mission statement did not serve you well. If your mission is not known, your mission statement is not good.

Here’s what to consider as you develop your mission statement.

First, decide what your mission is.

If you sell shoes, your mission could be “To give the world better balance”. This statement has some poetic value while still relatively clear. But is this right to guide your organization?

A mission is the most important thing you do. This means that it may guide future business decisions.

Let’s consider the above example. If the best way to give the world better balance involves something that supersedes selling shoes, it seems like you should do that to achieve your mission. But removing shoes does not make sense. If you believe shoes are a must in the equation, maybe you should just say that. Perhaps you don’t just want to make shoes, but you want to make shoes that improve the mechanics of walking, running, standing, and more.

An updated mission statement could be “To create shoes that give the world better balance.” This is clear, it narrows the types of shoes you create so you can do your best at delivering on a focused mission. Try to be honest with yourself on what is most important, and don’t be aspirational at the cost of your true business mission.

Second, don’t focus on the words, focus on the meaning.

Well-written statements exist to deliver meaning more effectively. But meaning comes first. There are two pieces of advice I can give you here. One is easy and one is difficult.

Easy. Decide what you want to say before you say it. By this I mean, without any glitter or glamor, determine the raw message you are trying to communicate. An event planning company might say “Well, we really just want to create events where people of all types have fun”.

The hard part is this: Be a good writer! While it’s easier said than done, practice makes perfect. I often write dozens (even hundreds) of statements reiterating my message. Afterward, I have a long list and I choose the ones I am drawn to. I’ll eventually pick a final selection based on criteria somewhat like this:

  • Is it clear and easy for people to understand?

  • Does it help me and others remember and get behind our mission?

  • Does the tone of the message fit our personality?

  • And lastly, do we like it?

The event company could have a mission statement like this: “Fun, live, and for everyone.” This is somewhat abstract and creative but still offers some clarity. If you need more detail, you can always have longer versions.

Lastly, knowing the mission is most important.

So often, companies have mission statements, but neither their leadership nor their employees at large know it. It would be as effective as if you did not have one at all. The most important thing is that people know what you are setting out to accomplish, so they can do their part to achieve it. Don’t over-emphasize a mission statement, unless it is so important you may not achieve your goals without it.

It’s okay to revise your mission from time to time, as your business grows and goals change. Most of all, make sure you do not create a mission statement just because it is something companies do. Purpose always guides action.

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