How to write a mission statement that doesn’t suck [Video]

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I want to show you why most mission statements are so terrible.

Let’s say you started a pizzeria. And your first idea for a mission statement is something like this: “Our mission is to serve the tastiest pizza in Wake County.” It’s rather good. If I worked for you I might be excited about this. Now here’s how it will derail.

So you’re going to call your colleagues around the boardroom table to unveil the mission, and all of a sudden, those people you love and respect are going to turn into Grade 10 English teachers, pinching every word. Everyone starts to comment, “Hey, I really like the word ‘present’ rather than ‘serve’, it sounds great.” And someone else will say, “Well, we obviously can’t say ‘fuck’, that’s just offensive.” So begins the story. And as you go around the table, your mission statement will be pecked to death.

  • We can’t limit ourselves to Wake County – and also, it’s not just tasty pizza, it’s about freshness – we should say “high quality” not tasty.
  • Isn’t it weird that we mention pizza but not our good salads and calzones? What if we changed it to “Italian cuisine of the highest quality”?
  • That’s fine, but even “Italian” seems limiting – what if we decided to switch to gyroscopes?
  • Hold the phone, folks, we didn’t even mention the great family atmosphere – the coloring books and the big comfy stalls and all that.
  • Great point, do you know what we’re really doing here at the end of the day? We offer an “entertainment solution!” Family!
  • Yeah, solution!
  • NAILED IT.
  • [Dan] Everyone is excited now. You’re almost there. And then Steve at the end of the table gets up …
  • [Steve] Look, guys, we haven’t mentioned anything about integrity. That is what it is, in the end. Integrity.

And is anyone at the table going to object to the inclusion of “integrity?” ” No. So let’s go. And presto, here is your new mission statement:

“Our mission is to bring the highest quality entertainment solutions to families with integrity. “

This is what 99% of the mission statements in the world look like, and I think you see the catch here – getting so vague and fanciful with the language that it just loses its meaning. Here are 2 ways to avoid it:

Use concrete language. Check out this mission statement from SonicBids, a small and fast growing company: “We want to help musicians get gigs and promoters book the right bands.” … We are a group of people who believe that music can really change the world and make it smaller and better. … We believe that independent music has its place everywhere: on festival stages; in video game consoles; on cinema screens; in university theaters; on the radio; in advertisements; on club stages and during sporting events. Wow. It gives you a picture of what they are doing and tells you why it is worth doing it.

Talk about the why. Most mission statements are all statements and no mission. It’s all about saying why you are doing what you are doing. What are you interested in ? Look at the start of Johnson & Johson’s famous credo: “Our first responsibility is to doctors, nurses and patients, mothers and fathers and everyone else who uses our products and services. Okay, okay, it’s worth getting out of bed for that. Compare that with that of ExxonMobil. Did you feel that? A little part of your soul just died reading this.

So you’ve seen why bad mission statements happen and two tips to make yours different. And in the meantime, let me challenge you to do the impossible: write a mission statement that means something. And I’ll give you a hint: if it contains the word “solution”, you’re not there yet. Thank you for watching.

For more on this topic: download this document that Chip and I developed: “5 Tips for a Sticky Strategic Vision. »Here is a funny and enlightening review
a book on mission statements. My opinion is that most organizations
would gain more from setting a clear and ambitious goal than
crafting the perfect mission statement. On this front, check out
Collins and Porras’ work on setting up a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious
Goal) – here is the original (free) piece and a useful preview with lots of examples. (Bonus: here are some audio resources from guru Jim Collins himself.) And, for inspiration: The J&J Credo.
(Many observers attribute to the Credo the contribution to the formation of J & J’s
admirable response to the Tylenol poisoning crisis of the 1980s.)


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