Mission: Statement

I’ve often poked fun at mission statements. When I read a company’s mission statement, it’s very rare that I have a “wow” moment. More often, I look at a long paragraph that means nothing to anyone but the one who wrote it and wonder if I’ll remember it by the time I finish reading it.

I’ve also met many people who don’t see the value in a mission statement. They know what they want to do and how they’re going to do it and it works for them. They don’t need some guiding statement to determine how they’re going to make day-to-day decisions. This works until you have employees. Regardless of how great your hiring practices are, people need direction. Good people want to take your vision and make it a reality. Great people will drag your vision kicking and screaming from imagination into reality whether it wants to get out of the car or not; and your vision will behave in the supermarket.

A mission statement tells your employees a few things about what you want to do. It answers the why, probably tells the who, and sets you apart from your competitors. It is not your elevator pitch, but it is the thing that your employees should get tired of hearing you say. It’s the guiding line of “Were you doing this correctly?”

A good mission statement is honest about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. It’s possible that your mission as a business owner is “make us a lot of money.” It’s not very flashy, and it’s not going to win you any humanitarian awards, but if that’s truly your mission why not be honest about it? This is the answer the drives the decision to every question. To play business buzzwords: align your goals.

What I tell clients when they’re looking to build a mission statement is to take away all of the distractions. Cut through the bull, to put it plainer. Sit down with some form of note taking and ask yourself “How do I want to do what I’m going to do.” This is not a statement you’re preparing for your employees, this is not a statement that you’re preparing for your customers, and it’s not even a statement that ever has to be public. But you, as the mission creator, should know what your mission is. Once you have that, making a statement about it that you want to show other people gets a lot easier. It starts with being honest with yourself.

For this reason, I don’t recommend using your mission statement as a marketing tool. If you go down this path, you begin coming up with marketing statements and not mission statements. At best, you come up with a good marketing statement that you can use as a tool in marketing, but not in mission undertaking. At worst, you end up just making yourself look like a tool and your employees will start to lose faith in whether your mission statement is true or whether it is more marketing propaganda.

What I do recommend is that you become the Ghost of Mission Statement. Ghosts, in my limited understanding of the paranormal, have a hard time communicating with the normal. They echo singular words or short phrases. Old style zombies may be a better example of this in that they just say “Brains…” over and over. This should be you with your mission statement. If your mission statement is “make lots of money” then your mantra should be “Go out there and make lots of money” when you have a team meeting and “Did you do this in a way that would make us lots of money” when you talk to an employee about their decisions. If your mission statement is “make people happy” then you ask “Which option will make people happy?” any time someone asks for your advice on an issue. Every time you have a chance to slip it in you say “Are we making people happy?” Your employees should make jokes about you and laugh at you for repeating the phrase so much. When you start saying the phrase, they may even chime in and finish it for you. They’ll snicker behind your back and say “Old Jones and his phrases.” They may make fun of you, but I guarantee that when you become the Ghost of Mission Statement they’ll remember it and as long as you live by it, so will they. They’ll make each other live by it as well.

Distill your mission statement to something simple and concise; make it easy to remember. If it’s a paragraph about making widgets in the most efficient way possible to reduce costs for consumers and increase profits for the shareholders, you’re going to have a really hard time asking that over and over. It’s not a challenge, I believe you can do it, I just think you shouldn’t. A mission statement should be the one thing that is never forgotten. In everything that you do your mission statement should override the rules, trump circumstance, and champion the goals of the company. It should be, wait for it, your mission!

Superman fought for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Green Lantern chanted that “No evil shall escape my sight.” Microsoft wants to help you “realize your full potential.” Why do you do what you do?

Posted in Advice.

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