People seem to like getting into the mission statement, but I’m not sure it’s always such a good idea. There’s also the possibility of doing your mantra instead, and people talk about a vision statement, and of course there are also business objectives.
The underlying idea is sound. Let’s think about who we are, what we want, what we want to do for customers, employees, and so forth. Let’s use these words to define ourselves.
Before I go on, let’s distinguish between these different items:
- A mission statement should define what the business wants to do for at least three sets of people: customers, employees, and owners. It should not be just meaningless hype.
- A mantra is a single phrase that defines a business. Guy Kawasaki, author of The Art of the Start, recommends mantra instead of mission.
- A vision statement projects forward into time three or five years and presents a picture, like a dream, of how things should be. Usually a vision statement works best as a story about the future, with your business as the key element in the story. Where it is, what it is doing, how big it is, what’s special about it. This works for some businesses, but not all.
- Business objectives should be hard-baked, concrete, specific, and, above all, measurable. Objectives are like sales growth rates, employee head counts, customers in the database, percentages of gross margin or profitability, units sold, and so on.
Your mission statement is both opportunity and threat at the same time. It’s an opportunity to define your business at the most basic level. It should tell your company story and ideals in less than 30 seconds: who your company is, what you do, what you stand for, and why you do it. It’s a threat, however, because it can be a complete waste of time.
A mission statement is a complete waste of time when it’s just meaningless phrases, hype that nobody can remember and wouldn’t matter even if they could remember.
Most mission statements are essentially full of interchangeable, nice-sounding phrases like “excellence” and “leadership” that make all of them sound exactly the same. If you have a mission statement in your company, test it by asking yourself, honestly, whether your competitors could use exactly the same statement. Does it distinguish you from all other businesses? If you gave an employee or customer a blind screening test, asking her to read your mission statement and four others without identifying which is which, would she be able to tell which mission statement was yours?
Consider the new trend, the idea of the Mantra. Guy Kawasaki writes an eloquent argument for the mantra instead of the mission in his book The Art of the Start (see sidebar, Mantras vs. Missions). At the very least, think about it.
Before you do the mission statement, make sure you’re going to use it. Will it actually set the underlying goals of the company? Will you refer to it as you develop and implement strategy? Will your team members know it, believe it, and use it in practice?
Then, start to ask yourself the most important questions. Do you want to make a profit, or is it enough to just make a living? What markets are you serving, and what benefits do you offer them? Do you solve a problem for your customers? What kind of internal work environment do you want for your employees? All of these issues may be addressed in a mission statement.