A mission statement defines what a company does, why it exists, and what it does.
Do you raise your eyebrows when someone mentions mission statements? It’s easy to be cynical. Too many companies use bullshit phrases when writing a meaningless mission statement.
Worse still, some mission statements are outright lies. Take Enron’s mission statement: “Our mission is to build unparalleled partnerships with our customers and to deliver value to them through the knowledge, creativity and dedication of our employees”. We all know how it ended. They have come to be synonymous with corporate fraud.
And yet, it is possible to craft a well-written mission statement that energizes your business. A good mission statement is essential to any goal-oriented business because it acts like a North Star, guiding you forward. Without it, you risk being sidetracked by the daily hustle and bustle of working life. Without forgetting the intricacies of customer requests.
What is a mission statement?
Definitions of mission statements can get vague, with people disagreeing about what a mission statement should be. There is often confusion and overlap between mission statements and the purpose of a company.
We go with the Jim Collins version of life. Your mission statement and your business purpose are separate things that, along with the core values, make up your strategic vision.
The purpose of a business is all about why your business exists. People often refer to Simon Sinek, who said in his TED Talk that you should “start with why” (although I disagree – it’s much better to “start with who”. More on that later. ).
Mission statements are a longer term thing, 10 to 25 years in the future. They talk about what you’re going to accomplish and how you’ll know you’ve achieved it. It makes more sense to me. “Mission” is an active word that implies a destination. “I’m on a mission”.
A great way to think about different terminology is “why”, “what” and “how”. The “why” is the purpose of a business. The “what” is a mission statement. The “how” corresponds to the fundamental values.
Over time, Jim Collins stopped using the term mission statement, preferring to use BHAGTM or Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This terminology was more emotive, implying a moonstroke that could set people on fire, inspiring passion, excitement and motivation. Any mission statement or BHAG should make the eyes shine and the hairs on the neck tingle.
Use the “hedgehog concept” to build your mission statement
The Hedgehog Concept by Jim Collins
When guiding clients towards creating an effective mission statement, I often refer to the work of Jim Collins from his bestselling book, “Good to Great.”
His approach revolves around what he calls the “hedgehog concept”. It’s based on the ancient Greek parable of a fox trying every trick in the book to eat a hedgehog. Collins argues that your business is more likely to succeed if you can identify the one thing you know how to do best.
It sounds simple, but it takes time to define it, going through three specific areas.
First, I ask the leadership team to isolate what gives energy and passion to their company. I ask them to figure out what gets them out of bed early in the morning and makes them work late on purpose.
Second, I ask them to define the thing they can be best at – something they know they can do better than anyone else.
And finally, I lead them to examine the elements that drive their economic engine in terms of profitability and market potential.
Where these three areas overlap is where they will find a great mission statement. Often, I ask each team member to write a mission statement on a post-it note. It doesn’t need to be perfected. This is the first stab.
We stick them all on the wall and, you guessed it. Every mission statement is different! Then I ask the team to brainstorm – collectively – and pick the most creative idea that embodies the most meaningful leap of faith. I get them to tune in to their emotional reactions – I look for those shining eyes.
This collaborative approach to writing a company’s mission statement can be convenient – after all, everyone has to buy into and sell this new trajectory to the rest of the company.
Know your primary customer
A thorough knowledge and understanding of your primary or target customer is fundamental to any mission statement. After all, how can you determine what you’re going to be the best in the world without knowing the target market you’re doing it for?
Your guiding principle should be: “Who are the customers who will buy from us with maximum profit?” »
Most of the time, my clients don’t. Since they started trading, they have attracted many customers, all looking for different things. This makes it difficult to focus on the fundamental core customer of any mission statement and ultimately will drive business growth.
This is perhaps a customer segment that purchases the most comprehensive range of services or has the potential to do so. We narrow down the list to one person who best represents those customers and build a profile of them – what are they trying to do in their business?
Does this target audience have a transformational challenge? What information tells their story? How will they feel when they sign on the dotted line?
Use a formula for your mission statement
In his book “Business Made Simple”, Donald Miller offers a simple framework if you are starting from scratch on a mission statement. It’s so useful that I’ve used it with clients who have trouble crafting their mission statements.
The wording is as follows:
“We will reach ________ (goal) by _________ (deadline) because of __________ (foresee the stakes).”
The last part refers to what will happen if you don’t achieve your mission statement. It speaks to your “Who”. We will accomplish this great thing; otherwise, our main customers will suffer something or miss out. I like this. This makes companies think about the impact they can have on their customers.
Take Boeing’s transformation from military jetliners to civilian jetliners. Using this approach, their mission statement could have been:
“We will become the world’s largest manufacturer of civilian airliners by 1970, because otherwise people will never know the freedom to travel the world.”
Choose a type of mission statement
Mission statements may vary. The best ones are clear and compelling, requiring little explanation. They are available in four models:
- Target-oriented mission statement
These are clearly defined as quantitative or qualitative mission statements. When I walk clients through the process of finding a more comprehensive mission statement, I prefer not to use numbers or quantitative numbers.
For example, I was with a new client the other day who told me that his mission statement was “To have 1500 employees in 5 years”. That might be great for the company, but I could imagine their staff yawning.
In many cases, when you put a number in your mission statement, it can make the emotion go away. However, our client Smartsourcing has developed a dynamic mission statement containing their company’s goals, “To change the lives of 5,000 Filipinos”. A compelling statement. And they will know when they have reached that destination.
- Role Model Mission Statement
This type of mission statement mimics the characteristics of other successful companies outside your industry. It’s something we did brilliantly when I was at Rackspace.
Initially, our mission statement was “To be the leading provider of managed hosting services for businesses, while providing fanatical support™ to our customers and generating profits” – a bit wordy. We wanted to make our mission statement more emotional.
Our goal was to become the computer equivalent of the Ritz Carlton or the Nordstrom. They have a fantastic reputation for customer service, and we wanted to bring that to our industry.
So our new mission statement became “To be recognized as one of the world’s leading service companies alongside Ritz Carlton, Lexus and Nordstroms”. Now we were getting somewhere!
- Competitive Mission Statement
As the name suggests, this type of mission statement focuses ruthlessly on your competitors. This can work wonders if you need to rally your troops around a common enemy.
Examples of such mission statements include Nike’s 1960s mission statement for “Adidas Crush” and Honda’s 1970s mission statement, “Yamaha wo tsubusu!” We are going to destroy Yamaha’.
- Internal transformation mission statement
If you are already well established but have an apparent transformative mission, you can focus your new mission statement on that goal.
There are great mission statement examples of transformational mission statements. One of the best is “A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software”. It drove the whole company forward, and anyone you met who worked in the company could vouch for that.
Make sure your mission statement is realistic
A well-crafted mission statement comes at the end of a great strategy job. You can’t just pull it out of nowhere.
I was recently interviewing one of the greatest thinkers in business, Roger L Martin, for my podcast Melting Pot. Interestingly, he disagreed with me on most things we discussed. I love this type of stimulating conversation! He said, just because you say something out loud doesn’t make it happen.
But I think there’s a balance between a mission statement that’s completely unrealistic and something that could be within reach. Take our mission statement at Rackspace, “To become the Ritz Carlton of IT services.”
When we wrote this mission statement, we were miles away from being the equivalent of the Ritz Carlton. Rather Travelodge! But there were glimmers of hope. It was in our DNA to arrive at this destination.
We could have quickly followed the path of our competitors – abandon service and instead focus on technology or profit. But since our mission was to excel in customer service, we stuck to it. He guided all of our strategic decisions from that point on.
That’s the beauty of a good mission statement. It will make your life easier. Your mission statement serves as the North Star for your company’s journey – it will guide you into the future of your company and through all the noise. Product development, customer selection, markets, geography, and mergers and acquisitions – all are impacted by the mission statement you choose. It’s part of the story you tell staff, customers and competitors. So invest time and effort in crafting a good mission statement.