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Are Mission Statements Dead?
Mission, as a defining statement for an organization, has fallen out of favor lately.
If you do not know what you are doing and for whom you are doing it, you can easily get distracted. There is a fine line to be wary of. If you’re too rigid, you may run into problems too. As a result, wanting to commit, in a statement of purpose, to what your business is doing and who you serve seems…. weird.
The current distaste for writing a mission statement is due to the rise of the tech world where businesses scale incredibly fast. When a brand says they want to serve ‘everyone on the planet’, they can, so they do not need to find who they want to help.
Organizations need to be able to identify:
- who matters to them
- whose needs require satisfying
- and who will become dissatisfied if they don’t deliver as promised
The Importance of a Mission Statement
Most organizations need to rally around identity, a group, or a bundle of characteristics that are looking for a certain set of parameters for someone to fulfill. And, most importantly, they need to feel a collective part of something with their team and their organization.
In addition to providing clarity, this kind of feeling of place/worth contributes to the engagement at any organization. Engaged organizations are successful organizations.
Why You Should Care About Crafting a Mission Statement
First, let’s start with the concept that mission is a statement of who the boss is. Everyone has a boss. Even if you are at the top of your organization, you have a boss – and, ultimately, if it isn’t the customer, you probably aren’t fulfilling your mission properly. If you forget that, all you have to do is look at the number of giants that have fallen lately because they forgot that they were there to serve others.
Read about a few who lost their sense of mission here:
This list covers a few companies that forgot who they were and pursued missions that had nothing to do with what their customer wanted or forgot the customer altogether.
The last example of Adam Neumann, WeWork’s head, was going to change the world. He used phrases for WeWork’s purpose like ‘galactic dominance’ and ‘unimaginable profit’ …sheesh…. is that all? Can’t you shoot higher? Is there something more important than you?
Yes, actually… there is…. it’s called, the customer.
Neumann’s organizational proclamations focused on results for him and the company, not the customer. It’s easy to focus on something besides the customer when you either have lost your mission or you have a bad mission. The mission is a reminder of who you serve. And, if you use it regularly, it keeps you focused. In the case of Neumann, his hubris problems went beyond his mission through to his balance sheet. At the end of the day, he forgot that it wasn’t all about him. Would a great mission statement have made a difference to someone like that? Probably not. The act of thinking less about yourself and more about what you want to deliver to someone else is a good step in the right direction.
The Bottom Line
The mission is the opposite of being everything to everyone. A mission is having a defined purpose, set of goals, and a group of people who need what you produce.
It can be a product, a hub of information, or a kind of service.
It can be pulling together those who have the same interests.
Some serve for a profit. Others serve without making a profit. Without a sense that you are serving others, you are far less likely to succeed.
We’ve discussed the importance of having a mission. Now, how do you write one? What things do you want to think about next? What questions do you want to answer to make sure your mission is sound?
Creating a Mission Statement
First of all – it would be easy to say, “We know our mission. We come here every day and know what we’re doing and who we’re serving.”
That might be true if you’re a brand-new company or you’re very small. But even then, people can have very different perspectives on what they should be doing and who they should be serving.
When you create a statement and write it down, you’re able to be clear about why you’re doing something and for whom.
Unfortunately, just because you write down your mission doesn’t mean your organization will follow it. But if you don’t write it down, you can almost guarantee that no one will follow it.
The Elements of a Good Mission
Begin by deciding what it is you do, for whom you do it, and why you do it.
The first part of that is to define, in straightforward terms, what your product or service is. Clear, concise language helps you set boundaries and gives everyone an understanding of what it is they are doing at your organization. It helps retain focus and keeps the organization from spreading too thin or moving away from core competency. It helps decide what you will work on and when you should say ‘no’ to things that are not mission-based.
The second part is to define your customer:
- Who would want your product or service and why?
- What does your customer look like?
- What is important to them?
- How do you want them to see you?
- How will you serve them?
- What will make what you do different from anyone else that might offer a similar product or service?
The third part and many people would say the most important part of your mission, is to understand why you want to provide what you provide to your customers. Answering the question gives your organization its meaning. The ‘why’ gives people your purpose. It’s the benefit to your customers’ lives and the enthusiasm of your employees to provide that benefit that you want to capture with the ‘why’.
Business coach Simon Sinek often discusses the concept of knowing your company’s ‘why’. Why do we do what we do? He talks about it from an individual perspective, but his concepts are very applicable to organizations. Sinek says that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Consumers buy your passion and commitment to deliver what they need. A good salesperson is one who truly believes in the product or service they are selling. Customers buy from them because of the interest and passion they have for their products.
How Leaders Move Their Employees to Understand the “Why”
It’s not always obvious how to bring that level of excitement to an entire group of people, especially as the organization grows. That’s where a well-articulated mission comes in. The clearer you are about why you do what you do consistently, the more likely you are to bring people with you.
Purpose, cause, and reason give people the meaning of their ‘why’. It allows you to select those who will fit best within your team. Your mission is clear if it transmits your passion to bring to your customers and if it defines what your customers are to you. It not only selects those who fit but also selects those who don’t.
We’re going to answer:
- Our What: Factually, what do we do? Be clear. Be concise. One of the most important characteristics of a mission is to be short so everyone can recite it. If it’s a long dissertation, no one will remember it. Keep it at a high level that is memorable.
- For Who: Next, who are we doing this for? Again, not in minute detail with 10 different customer profiles but in general terms, who are you serving? As I mentioned up front, very few companies can serve everyone. There are a few, but in the absence of a huge internet search engine that serves everyone who has a computer, it’s your first step to understanding your customers if you can define who they are.
- And Our Why
Sometimes it’s helpful to have a template, like this one.
Consider who should be involved when crafting your mission. The simplest answer is all those who have a stake in it. This has limits as your organization may be too large to get everyone involved. With today’s ability to reach out through surveys, you can include a variety of different perspectives with general questions.
- What is our purpose?
- What is the most important thing we do?
- Who do we do it for?
- What do you do that you believe really adds value to your customers?
- What is your favorite part of your job?
Whether you have a small, medium, or larger size organization, getting the pulse of your employees when putting together a mission statement is very important.
Next, you begin choosing every word and phrase carefully. A good tip for this is to put very few people on this task as possible. You may have a leadership team begin crafting your mission but once it gets to the minute detail, that’s something for a small team of 2 to 3 people to handle. Assign this to those who not only understand your organization but who are good with language.
Remember: be clear, concise and memorable.
Communicating a Mission Statement
After you commit it to words and agonize over the choice of every single word and/or prepositional phrase, you’ve come out on the other end with a crisp, clean, memorable mission statement. This mission statement transmits your purpose and your “why” with enthusiasm and excitement.
Next, it’s time to communicate it to the organization. Everyone must understand why you crafted it the way you did. If they weren’t directly involved, they need to have the process laid out, so they understand that the words were deliberate choices.
Developing a Plan
Craft a plan for establishing your mission in the workplace, online, in your printed material (if you have it), and at each employee’s workstation whether they work from home or come into your offices.
If you’ve never had a mission statement and you want to engage your employees, work with your marketing department or human resources department to plan communication over the next several months. If you have had a mission statement and you’ve made changes to the existing one, a long introduction may not be necessary.
Here are some ideas from different organizations that introduced a mission statement:
- Memorization contests – winners are awarded gift certificates, etc.
- Display contests – who has the mission most creatively displayed in their work area
- Print ideas – what’s the best place to put your mission statement that no one had thought of
- Presentations – put the mission in every presentation the company makes either internally, externally or both
- Website placement
- Incorporation into the logo – if succinct enough. Remember, the mission isn’t a tagline or a slogan for a marketing campaign
- New employee on-boarding materials – culturally ensuring that everyone is on-board
- Candidates for employment – letting them know what you do and who you serve
There are many creative ways for you to get your mission statement into the consciousness of your team. You will know what works for your organization. Most importantly, it is time to make a plan and make it happen.