At the start of the start-up that I co-founded in 2010, when my partners and I first discussed the idea of writing a mission statement, we groaned. It was just the three of us back then, and I remember the conversation going like this:
“Ugh, most mission statements are so BS”
“… let’s do one later.” “
We were pretty clear on what we were trying to accomplish. And when we were only three, we communicated all day. We were a beehive spirit. Why did we need a “statement” to tell us what was going on?
But as our business grew, that kind of consensus became more elusive. New hires were not imbued with what we took for granted. People kept asking the same questions about our “mission.”
So we came back to the idea of a mission statement. And we groaned again.
For us, such a statement should be useful or we weren’t going to do it. And that meant not just stating the obvious that every business wanted to do. Make our customers succeed, make our employees succeed, make money for shareholders blah blah blah. Yes, everyone wants that.
Unless you are the Suffolk County Chapter of MS-13, you can pretty much assume that all employees want to be ethical, responsible, and honestly low-key when it comes to filling out timesheets and flying. bathroom supplies. The graphic below is a real-life example of the Laundry List mission statement in all its convoluted glory:
This is similar in many ways to the values of the company. If the list of things your group “values” is in addition to what each company should do anyway-Integrity! Excellency! Transparency! The diversity ! – so what’s the point of making such a list? (I come back to this at length in this article here, if you are interested.)To be useful, a mission statement must consist of several elements:
- Useful for making decisions in YOUR organization
- Not so specific that it locks you into a particular strategy
- Easy to remember
When you phrase it this way, it becomes clear that a typical mission statement isn’t even the right solution.
So what if it’s not a mission statement?
I would suggest three things instead:
Your team and clients should be clear and excited about why your business exists. I think this is best defined as the GOAL of your business.
To want to work with you, your best potential partners will want to have a clear and exciting picture of what the world will be like if you are successful in achieving your goal. This image of the future can be called your VISION.
When you have all of this sorted out, you will want a plan on How? ‘Or’ What to arrive at this vision. These details constitute your STRATEGY, and it should be flexible.
Here are a few examples to help you make that happen:
Purpose: A clear and exciting explanation of why you exist
Good articulation of a business purpose is clear, easy to remember, and exciting. Ideally, it’s something more basic than anything your business makes. It should be the breach you want to make in the world.
Good example: “Our goal is to organize knowledge of the world.
Good example: “Our goal is to help businesses deliver marketing that people really love. ”
Good example: “Our goal is to help families have fun together.”
As you can see, they are all broad and lofty, and leave enough room to explore different ways to achieve the goal as the business grows.
Bad example: “Our goal is to create the best search engine in the world. “
It might sound good, but what happens when you build the search engine? Does Google stop there? No. A useful goal is more important than just one specific thing you want to do.
Bad example: “Our goal is to build a $ 100 million self-service content marketing software company. ”
It is neither a source of inspiration for an employee or a customer, nor a goal. It’s a goal with a specific strategy that may not be the right one. (What if your customers end up wanting managed service instead of self-service? It sucks to be locked into the How? ‘Or’ What via your goal statement.)
Bad example: “We exist to sell cartoons to television stations and earn royalties from them.”
It’s not Why you exist. This is exactly what you are currently selling. Then suddenly you realize that people want something other only cartoons… or someone has the idea to build a theme park… what now? If you do these things, what was the point of the goal statement? If you stick to the goal statement and don’t take these opportunities, you don’t become Disney. Ouch!
Vision: What does success look like
Once you are clear on the breach you want to make in the world, it helps to explain what the world looks like once you are successful. This gives your team members a filter through which to make decisions. Is this thing that we are about to do going to bring us any closer to what we envision?
My favorite way to phrase a vision is to start with the phrase: “In the future of science fiction, we will …”
Good example: “… Have cataloged everything on the Internet, and the whole world will be counting on us to help them find all the information they want. “
This moves away from the How? ‘Or’ What while specifying what success looks like.
Good example: “… All the big brands in the world are running on our platform for all of their content marketing.”
It paints a very clear picture of what the world looks like if you are successful.
Good example: “… have 80% of families worldwide who regularly interact with our entertainment properties. “
It is a noble objective, but it is specific without being prescriptive.
Good example: “… sell a million burgers a day.” ”
This one is OK because you can imagine exactly what it looks like. You know exactly what you are trying to accomplish and you have the flexibility to plan accordingly.
Bad example: “… Hit our fourth quarter revenue figures.”
Holy boring! Are you begging your people scrambling for more exciting jobs? It paints a picture, but this picture is quite beige. You are not going to inspire your people for the long term. Plus, the fourth trimester comes pretty quickly for a Vision. Why not just have a Q4 goal?
Bad example: “… Use a freemium model to onboard 10,000 customers per year.”
The 10,000 customer thing is a valid vision, but you don’t want to be rigid about How? ‘Or’ What you succeed. What if you find out that freemium doesn’t work as well as something else?
Strategy: How are you going to get there … for now
Finally, once your team has a good idea of where they’re headed, the whole game (of business) is strategizing to get there and then executing it.
If your team knows where you want to go and why, but isn’t clear on the current roadmap to getting there, they’ll be painful at best and bad decisions at worst.
Now that roadmap can change. And should, in fact. This is what good leadership should be:
If your vision is good and your goal inspiring, then changing your strategy every now and then won’t cause panic. It should be cause for celebration.
Much more celebration, of course, than the unveiling of a crappy mission statement.