When it comes to mission statements, many companies stand a good chance of leaving employees or customers bored, disappointed, or even confused. That’s because too many companies create mission statements that simply don’t resonate with the audiences they are meant to serve. The statement sounds awkward or computer-generated. It substitutes business jargon for ideas. It doesn’t get to the point. It promises the sun and the moon.
A mission statement is one of the most important aspects to starting or revamping a business. It helps to define the purpose and values of the business; serving as a foundation of the company’s culture and beliefs. A well-thought-out and well-crafted statement can guide the decision-making process, help keep the business on track during expansion, mergers or acquisitions, and can be implemented into marketing messages, branding and product development.
The list of mission statement sins is a lengthy one, but can be narrowed down into four key categories:
Let’s take a look at the following mission statement as an example: “Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.”
Based on this statement, can you venture a guess as to what this company does? It is actually for a large drugstore/grocery chain whose motto is “Helping Make Your Life Easier.” However, there is nothing easy about this mission statement, as it doesn’t even hint that this is for a drugstore, or explain how that store can help people. It could be the statement of a mortgage company, an insurance firm or any other kind of business.
Your mission statement should, at the very least, be specific to your industry.
When you’re Amazon – the e-commerce giant – you can have a mission statement that pledges to be “earth’s most customer-centric company.” But for any company that can’t claim a global distributorship and assets in the billions, the mission to be the “world’s best” can be met with skepticism.
Though it is important to reach for the stars, your statement should be grounded. Remember that a mission statement reflects your purpose and values, while a vision statement is a more forward-looking assertion.
Here are two mission statements from rival Fortune 500 staffing services companies:
- To serve our customers, employees, shareholders and society by providing a broad range of staffing services and products.
- To be the best worldwide provider of higher-value staffing services and the center for quality employment opportunities.
One company simply “provides” a range of services; the other pledges the best quality in doing so. Your mission statement is a promise that stakeholders expect you to keep. Set the bar too low and simply “provide” services and you run the risk of leaving possible stakeholders unmotivated to learn more about your goals.
Often a company touts its “solutions” when they really should be focused on their products or services. “Solution” is one example of business jargon that is overused and flies right past the reader. And where you find jargon, you’ll often find long, wordy phrasing as well.
How do such mission misfires occur? Some statements come directly from the boardroom – drafted by senior management familiar with business jargon and “important” wording – that lacks a personal touch.
However, the jargon-filled statement is far from the way people actually respond to missions. So if “core competency,” “empower” and “scalable” (all words cited by Forbes as the “most annoying and pretentious”) creep into your statement, you run the risk of glazed eyes and a quickly forgotten message. To avoid that, enlist a writer or editor to review your draft. Then run your mission statement in front of 10 people – associates, friends or family – and simply ask, “Do you get it?”
Perhaps the rise of social networking – with its 140-character messaging limits – has made its impact on the mission statement. Not surprisingly, many of the companies recognized as the best in mission statements are technology firms. But savvy retailers have also joined the trend:
- Google makes its case: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- Here’s Walmart’s: “We save people money so they can live better.”
- And Chili’s mission is “to spice up everyday life.”
Nowhere in these statements will you find “solutions,” “impactful outcomes” or even “meeting customer needs.” Instead, in these brief, engaging phrases you can understand the companies’ beliefs – and benefits – immediately.
Today’s companies face enough challenges and a mission statement shouldn’t be one of them. An MA in Organizational Leadership from a proven university gives you the insight and the skills to communicate in a way that reaches people. The curriculum will challenge you to rethink old ideas, brainstorm, build alliances and inspire a shared vision – all qualities that aid you well after your mission statement is completed.