When was the last time you got excited by a company mission statement? Maybe never, when so many look like this:
We deliver innovative technology and services that make businesses better through a powerful combination of customer knowledge, inspired thinking and attentive associates.
We provide our customers with the next generation of productivity gains and customer experience innovation through our deep knowledge of the changing global consumer and technology.
Why the glut of corporate gobbledygook?
Because there’s a misconception about mission statements. Many people think of them as a challenge to describe everything your company offers in one mega-sentence.
So stakeholders arm-wrestle over words and nitpick language until you end up with one big, forgettable sentence that goes to die on your about page or employee handbook.
After all that heartache trying to figure out your mission, you end up with a sentence that has nothing to do with the real motivations behind your product development, customer service or business strategy…which is what a true company mission statement is about.
A good mission statement helps drive your organization in the right direction. It’s a quick, sticky mantra that tells everyone why your company is on this planet.
Your mission doesn’t have to be grandiose to be good. But it does need to be specific to you.
How do you know if your mission statement is any good?
Want a quick test to see if your mission statement is useful? Shout it. Loud.
If your mission statement is on the right track, it should sound decent screamed at the top of your lungs.
Unlike this: “THE NEXT GENERATION OF PRODUCTIVITY GAINS AND CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE INNOVATION!”
A strong company mission is a rallying cry – a focused idea that unites people and gets ‘em pumped about coming to work each day with a clear sense of purpose.
Google’s mission is a perfect example (of course):
To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Sure, Google could have said something about “being the world leader in harnessing the power of information”…and they wouldn’t have been technically wrong. But instead, they wrote a clear and concise statement about what they’re committed to doing each day.
(And anyone can remember it, without referencing the employee handbook – another trait of a good mission statement.)
Every company has a unique mission, whether it’s been captured in a statement or not. In fact, it’s probably been staring you in the face since day 1. You just haven’t seen it for what it is.
So, how do you find a mission statement that feels so right, you want to shout it from the rooftops? Here’s an exercise to get you started.
Step 1: Think about a time your company was at its best
Get a group together – ideally across departments for different perspectives. Ask everyone to write out a personal experience about a moment when the company was at its best.
(If you’re a startup or entrepreneur who hasn’t launched yet, then imagine what an ideal story or scenario would look like based on your market research.)
These should be specific, real-life anecdotes about when you guys were killing it. For example, an executive recruitment firm might have a story like this:
“Our client felt unsure about whether she had what it takes to get an executive role. So we gave her a 1-on-1 coaching session to find her unique skills and experience, so she could articulate her superpower and better position herself for a VP role. We worked together to help her find an authentic way to talk about herself, which made her quickly appear more confident. At the end of the session, she was excited to finally have clarity on her path to an executive role.”
Write out as many of these stories as you can on separate pieces of paper and get them up on the wall.
Step 2: Highlight all the actions and outcomes in your stories
Grab a pen and underline all the actions that take place in your stories. Using the same example above, you’d underline “find her unique skills and experience”, “helped her articulate her superpower” and “helped better position herself for a VP role.”
Next, circle all the outcomes. For example: “found an authentic way to talk about herself”, “felt excited to finally have clarity on her path to an executive role” and “her confidence grew”.
Collect all actions and outcomes from your stories into a simple table, like so:
This exercise is about going back to basics and articulating the specific value your organization offers customers.
Too often, people approach mission statement with generalities. It seems like a safe way to encompass all the things your company does, but really, it’s the recipe for a bland statement like “harnessing the power of technology.”
Remember, your mission statement isn’t about conveying your full list of products and/or services. (That’s what product and services pages are for!) Your mission statement is the motivation behind your products and services.
Taking a fresh look at the great things you do for customers will point you in the right direction.
Step 3: Note themes and anything that just feels right
Spend some time discussing all those great actions and outcomes in your table. Take a good look, because the contents of your mission statement are lurking inside.
Tease it out by looking for the following:
- Repetition – if something keeps coming up again and again, it’s likely key to your story. Does it feel central to your business? If not, what’s missing?
- Emerging themes – maybe you have different outcomes but they all ladder up to a big theme, like gaining confidence or flexibility. Look at those themes and think about how they relate to your offering.
- Exciting stuff – there might be some lofty, big-hearted options in there that feel unrelated to your offering. For example, an accounting firm that has a knack for helping their small business owner clients feel happy and in control of their finances. Emotional missions behind functional offerings are a great way to set your brand apart. Because people buy from people.
- “Duh” stuff – if anything seems too obvious – reading it makes you think “of course that’s what we do” – then it might be a contender. You’re looking for something to signify what you already do, day in and day out. It should be familiar and not out of left field.
Step 4: Rapid fire 5 mission statements
As I mentioned before, many a blah mission statement started with a drawn-out, collective group effort. And words under the microscope.
We’re gonna take a different route : )
Instead, challenge everyone in the room to come up with 5 mission statements in 10 minutes, rapid fire.
Pull from the contents of your table, or anything you’ve just discussed, and simply fill in the blanks:
Our company is on a mission to:_______________________ .
Don’t think too hard about it…
Just create some options. You might fill the blank with an outcome that really hit home with you, a big theme, or a way you strive to make customers feel.
Read them out and share initial reactions. Note any repeats or overlaps as strong contenders. Resist the urge to start nitpicking language.
Finally, put your options away for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes…and fresh lungs.
That’s right, shout each option and vote which one sounds and feels the best. This doesn’t have to be your final mission statement, but you’ll be closer than most.
And, hopefully, it was more fun getting there.