I’ve had a 30-year love-hate relationship with mission statements. I love it when a mission statement defines a business so well that it feels like strategy—which does happen—and I hate it when a mission statement is generic, stale, and completely useless. Some of the best mission statements also extend themselves to include fourth and fifth dimensions: what the company does for its community, and for the world.
Developing your company’s first mission statement, or writing a new or revised one, is your opportunity to define the company’s goals, ethics, culture, and norms for decision-making.
The comic strip “Dilbert” has had a field day making fun of them: Image: DILBERT © Scott Adams. You don’t have to actually write the story—it’s definitely not included in the mission statement—but do think it through: Imagine a real person making the actual decision to buy what you sell.
Use your imagination to see why she wants it, how she finds you, and what buying from you does for her. And keep that in mind for the actual mission statement wording: “The more concrete, the better.” A really good market-defining story explains the need, or the want, or—if you like jargon—the so-called “why to buy.” It defines the target customer, or “buyer persona.” And it defines how your business is different from most others, or even unique.
Don’t just say it, especially if it isn’t important or always true.
For example, Apple Computer’s 2017 mission statement is: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, i Life, i Work and professional software.
That’s because the mission statement can serve as a reminder—for owners, supervisors, and workers—and as a lever for self-enforcement.
If you have a special view on your relationship with employees, write it into the mission statement.
The daily routine of business gets in the way sometimes, and a quick refresh with the mission statement helps a person take a step back and remember what’s most important: the organization has a purpose.
That a traditional business plan often includes a mission statement isn’t a reason to do one. The vast majority of the mission statements are just meaningless hype that could be used to describe any business in the category.