When you think about the vision and the heart of your business, what comes to your mind? Now think about this question: Do your customers clearly understand these same ideas?
Otherwise, 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 poorly understood part of business. It’s not the same as a slogan, which is designed to grab the attention of customers in marketing contexts, or a vision statement, which defines where your organization is going. It is much more precise and strategic.
“Your business mission statement is your opportunity to define business goals, ethics, culture and decision-making standards,” says entrepreneur Tim Berry. “The best mission statements define a business’s goals in at least three dimensions: what the business 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.
Since mission statements need to cover a lot of information in a very concise format, you will find that most companies have poorly worded, meaningless, and vague statements. However, if you look at the successful companies, you will notice that their mission statements are well crafted and incredibly valuable.
So what makes a mission statement valuable? Well, everyone has their own opinion on 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. Typically, these questions include something similar to the following:
- What opportunities or needs does our company respond to?
- How to respond to these opportunities and needs?
- Who do we serve?
- What unique value do we offer to customers?
This is a simplistic overview of 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 to study what other companies are doing. Based on their statements, you can identify the common characteristics needed to develop your own.
Let’s take a look at three case studies and highlight some commonalities between them:
- Sixthree zero: “The bicycle is one of the most powerful mobility devices in the world. Our mission is to provide an innovative cycling experience for all the adventurous souls in the world. Empowering people to embark on the most difficult journey of their lives … one bike and one ride at a time.
- Soft green: “Founded in 2007, sweetgreen is a destination for delicious foods that are both healthy for you and aligned with your values. We source our 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 meet.
- Warby Parker: “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and an ambitious goal: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while paving the way for socially responsible businesses. “
There really couldn’t be three other different companies. One sells modern bikes, another serves fresh food, and another is a popular online eyewear business. However, each does an effective job of revealing the common characteristics of strong mission statements. These include:
- Succinct: A good mission statement is usually between one and three sentences long. As you can see, each of these declarations has a different length, but they all correspond to this base parameter. If the customer or employee wants to learn more about a particular aspect of the statement, they can always find that information elsewhere.
- Current objectives: A mission statement is not about the past. While some elements are present, including Sweetgreen’s reference to their starting point in 2007, the critical elements of a mission statement describe current goals. Each of these statements does an effective job of describing why they exist and who they currently serve.
- Loud verbiage: Vague and general words do not work well in a mission statement. In order for a statement to grab the reader’s attention and speak about the true intentions of the business, there must be strong language. Notice some of the words used in these three examples: powerful, innovative, stimulating, passion, rebellious and revolutionary. These are words that jump off the page.
- Unique: Every business has a mission statement. And while it may be tempting for companies in crowded industries to view their competitors’ statements as frames for theirs, it is very important that a mission statement is unique. These three mission statements are clearly incomparable and one of a kind.
- Malleable: Contrary to popular belief, a mission statement is not something concrete that is verified year after year. While the vision for your business may always stay the same, your mission statement can certainly change. It shouldn’t be handled often, but there is flexibility if new opportunities arise.
- Speak to the “how:” Every mission statement respects what a company stands for, but only the best mission statements address the “how” behind it. In other words, a strong mission statement doesn’t just list goals. It indicates how these specific objectives are to be achieved.
Wendy Maynard, Strategic Director and Co-Founder of Kinesis, a leading marketing firm, challenges every company she works with to write an achievable and quantifiable mission statement that is non-sentimental or nebulous. This is the only way to extract real value.
“If you’ve got a wobbly old mission statement that looks like a corporate Hallmark card (you know what I’m talking about), then take it and tear it to shreds,” she says. “Next, 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 your company’s passions and values isn’t easy, but the rewards for doing so are great.
Connect the dots with a mission statement
A mission statement is something that many businesses fear. They don’t know what to say and don’t want to ruin everything. And while you can read lots of tips and study some helpful examples like the ones highlighted in this article, eventually you have to dig in and get your hands dirty.
There is no right or wrong way to craft a mission statement. Some companies like to collect everyone’s feedback, while others leave it 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 together customers, employees and business leaders under one succinct statement that accurately defines what the business stands for.
Don’t rush, but the sooner you find your mission statement, the sooner you will truly understand your business.