What do you get when you gather a CEO, her lawyers, the company’s board, the CFO, the Marketing department, and several other senior staff members in a room to write a mission statement? A convoluted, complicated, vague, and lengthy mission statement that inspires no one and basically doesn’t work. This is what happens all too often when it’s time to write (or re-write) an organization’s mission statement.
Your mission statement is the heart of your company. It’s the first and most important piece of content your organization should have. Just like the heart pumps blood throughout the body, your mission statement pumps content throughout your organization. Your mission statement is the core of your business.
As the core of your business, if it’s vague and inspires no one then it’s time to re-think… and re-write it.
Keep the Group Writing the Mission Statement Small
The scenario I described in the beginning? It happens all to often in organizations, both big and small. Why? Because writing a mission statement is important! It’s so important that it’s tempting to invite everyone within the company to be involved in its crafting. The problem is that when you involve everyone, you put too many cooks in the kitchen. So forget about involving every decision maker in your company and make your creation committee small. The committee should be no more than three key stakeholders and, optionally, a facilitator from outside of your organization who can lead discussions and help write the final statement.
Create a “Feedback Committee” to Involve Others Without Watering Down the Words
I don’t want to make it sound like it’s easy to narrow your writing committee down to less than three people. Every organization has its politics and there are likely people who will be frustrated and upset that they aren’t at the table. One way to overcome this is to create a larger group responsible for providing feedback on whatever the writing committee comes up with. The key here is that feedback is given in aggregate. The writing committee can take conflicting pieces of feedback and carefully weigh which opinions should be integrated.
Make Your Mission Statement Specific
The death of a mission statement happens when it tries to be too many things. As important as a mission statement is, it cannot be every core value you want to instill in the company compacted into a really complicated compound sentence. You can always supplement your mission statement with core values or guiding principles. Vague mission statements aren’t inspiring — they’re confusing.
Keep Your Mission Statement Short
Short means one sentence. One thought. If possible, keep your mission statement under seven words. Why? Because studies show that we can remember things in under seven words. Your mission statement needs to be easy to remember and easy to repeat. Here are some examples:
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” (Nike)
“To provide the best customer service possible.” (Zappos)
“To create content that educates, informs and inspires.” (PBS)
These are effective mission statements because they are short, inspiring, and easy to remember.
Use Inspirational and Aspirational Language
Mission statements are the rallying cry of your organization. Your mission statement isn’t something that is dusty and will sit on a shelf. It should inspire everyone in your organization to work towards achieving something big. Every. Single. Day. Your mission statement should be what motivates you to get out of bed everyday. It should make your employees feel like they are donning their super hero capes when they come to work. Yep, it should be that inspirational! Here are a few examples:
“To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” (Facebook)
“To inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities.” (New York Public Library)
“Finding the soul in the selling of office supplies.” (Staples)
Start Your Mission Statement with an Action Verb
Why do so many mission statements start with the word to? Because the word immediately following it is a verb. Verbs are wonderful because they put people in the middle of the action. Starting your mission statement with a verb turns it from a boring statement into something that’s alive. Using a verb also clearly answers the question, “What is your mission?”
“Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (Google)
Create a Mission Statement that Packs a Punch
Your mission statement should be short, but it should also pack a punch! Sit down (or have your CEO/founder sit down) and ask “Why did I start this company/organization?” “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” This takes courage, as Jason Goldberg, CEO of Fab.com discussed in a presentation he gave at the 99u conference. Fab was originally an online community focused on the LGBTQ community. But the business model wasn’t working, so Jason and his partner took a hard look into the heart of their business and ended up pivoting to an e-commerce model. Jason talks about how his mission is a quick tool for decision making that every employee uses every day. They don’t use their mission to say how they are going to make people smile, just that their mission is to make people smile. Your mission statement is your litmus test. It’s what you should ask when you make decisions. Is it going to make people smile?
”Fab delivers smiles. Guaranteed.” (Fab.com)
Your Mission Statement Should Be Something You Can (Eventually) Achieve
A mission statement is essentially a very large goal that you’re trying to accomplish. It might take you ten, fifty, or even one hundred years to do it, but the goal is to eventually get it done. A great example of this is the March of Dimes. Their original mission when they were founded in 1938 was to cure polio. In 1958, they had pretty much accomplished it, so they set out on a new mission to prevent birth defects.
Avoid Wishy-Washy Words
A mission statement should be, well, a statement. It’s what you stand for, not what you think you might want to maybe do one day. Your mission statement should be definitive and declarative. After all, it is your rallying cry! Here are some words that water down mission statements, make them vague and just plain don’t belong.
- “Help.”Helping is not doing. Commit to it. Help is a toe in the water not a line in the sand.
- “It, stuff, and things.” These words are all too generic. There’s no place for generic in a mission statement.
- “Subjective words” (easily open to others interpretations) like quality, meaningful, real. They can be easily misinterpreted because they mean different things to different people.
Are you ready to show the world why you started your organization? Ready to inspire your employees and customers with a short, succinct and powerful mission statement rallying cry? Then get out that pen and paper and get it done! I’d love to hear what you come up with. (Oh, and if you get stuck, contact me and I can help.)
I’m currently collecting mission statement examples for my upcoming book, Culture of Content so if you have an example (good or bad), leave a comment and tell me what it is!