Writing a Mission Statement
In order to be able to start writing a mission statement, first, you must clearly understand three fundamental facts: Your mission’s function: What an effective mission does for your organization.Your mission’s fuel: What you need to do – as your organization’s top leader – to unleash your organization’s mission full potential.Your mission’s nature: What your organization’s mission is and what it is not.
Once you clearly comprehend these three vital points, then and only then, you will be ready to start writing a mission statement for your organization – effectively.
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YOUR MISSION’S FUNCTION
Your mission – in order to be an effective leadership tool – must accomplish three things simultaneously:It must motivate your entire workforceIt must attract, retain, and develop the right talentIt must align your organization
When you think mission – think passion. In practical terms, mission translates to passion and to performance – your employees’ passion to execute their work. A high performance organization has a workforce who truly believes in its company’s mission, it identifies with it, and it is passionate about it.
Hence, not all companies’ missions are for everybody – we all have different callings, we all believe in different purposes, and we all identify ourselves with different missions.
Human beings have the desire and potential to contribute, and one of the best competitive advantages there is, it is the commitment of your workforce. Your mission helps you do just that.
Writing a mission statement is the easy part – making sure that everybody you hire identifies herself with and commits to your organization’s mission is the tricky part.
Talent Attraction, Retention, and Development:
No company wants employees who don’t identify themselves with the mission of the organization.
A well-crafted and clear mission attracts, retains and develops the employees who identify themselves with your company’s mission, and at the same time it repels the people who don’t find it compelling.
If your workforce identifies itself with your organization, it is more likely that your mission will play an important role in talent retention and development – but if it doesn’t, it won’t keep them and develop them.
Writing a mission statement is useless if your hiring practice is not aligned with it – it is also useless if many people within your employees don’t identify themselves with it – it won’t be able to retain them and develop them.
Alignment means that everybody – or at least the great majority – in the company clearly understands what the mission is, and what it is they need to do in their every day activities in order to fulfill it.
Your mission brings a focal point so that your employees can appreciate how what they do is linked to a greater purpose – it is a leadership tool to help you guide organization-wide decision-making and execution.
Alignment means that the daily behaviors of all the organization’s employees are 100 per cent aligned with the company’s mission – the mission helps you shape the behavior of everybody in your organization.
Writing a mission statement is the easy part, making your mission statement come alive requires a lot more work from the organization’s leadership.
Strictly speaking, the real organization’s mission is not the written mission statement per se – but rather – it is the ensemble that encompasses the day-to-day behaviors of the company’s entire workforce: ensemble that is perfectly aligned with the organization’s mission.
There are outstanding-high performing companies that never took the time to writing a mission statement; but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have a mission – nothing could be further from the truth – these organizations have a mission indeed: You can see it alive in everything these companies do.
Writing a mission statement is useless if the behavior of your entire workforce is not aligned with your company’s mission.
YOUR MISSION’S FUEL
The strength of your company’s mission resides in your employees’ conviction, passion, and aligned behaviors with such passion.
So, what gives strength to the mission of your organization? What is its fuel?
Writing a mission statement is just the beginning. The fuel of your mission is when your employees see the mission of your company as a dignified purpose that transcends any temporary financial gains – making just a return in the stockholders’ interest does not motivate any workforce.
The mission of any business is not to make money – it is to create value for its stakeholders (employees, customers, stockholders, etc.), and as a result of this, to generate financial gains.
James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras in “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” (Harper Business, New York, NY: 1994) use the oxygen for our human bodies as a metaphor: Oxygen is not the purpose of our human lives, but we would not be able to live without it. A business needs to make money, but it is not its mission.
Your job is to translate your company’s mission into a noble purpose in the eyes of your workforce – you have to be able to get to the point where your employees visualize your company’s Mission as a dignified purpose that rises above any short-term financial profits.
You must frame the work of your employees as part of a deep and rewarding purpose (your company’s mission) that your workforce finds fulfilling – your mission provides meaning to your people and to the workplace.
When you are able to translate your company’s Mission into passion – when your employees stand for your organization’s purpose and when they do believe in what they do – you ignite motivation, conviction, commitment, retention, and of course, alignment.
When your employees have a cause that involves the wellbeing of others, when your workforce sees their job as extending to the welfare of the end-user, they unchain their wish to achieve something meaningful – this is exactly what your mission is for: To focus and increase the performance of your organization.
The fuel – the force – of your organization’s mission is not found in writing a mission statement, but in your organization’s capacity to transform its mission into a live force embodied in every single worker.
YOUR MISSION’S NATURE
What is a mission anyway? There is a lot of literature about this topic, and different authors call it different things: Corporate philosophy, purpose, identity, creed, etc. For clarity sake, we call it mission.
The mission explains why the organization exists – it describes its contribution to society and the value it creates for its customers. To say it more poetically: The mission explains the purpose of the organization and it captures its soul – the mission of an organization is its most fundamental reason for being.
On the contrary, the mission:Does not describe what the organization does – remember, it does describe why the organization exists (it is the “why” not the “what”).Is not the panacea or a business formula for success – the mission is a leadership tool that must be well-used; if it is not, it will be useless – no matter how well written it is.Is not a measurable goal – purpose is fulfilled but never attained.Is not the well-written mission statement on the gorgeous golden plaque for all to see in the main entrance of headquarters – there is a gigantic difference between writing a mission statement and creating a truly sense of organizational mission among all employees.Is not something abstract, intangible, or ethereal – the mission is as concrete as the behaviors of the organization’s employees.
There is a huge amount of literature about organizational missions, and most companies today have done a marvelous job writing a business mission statement – however, very few companies know how to use their mission as an effective leadership tool to impact organizational performance.
WRITING A MISSION STATEMENT
Being aware of your mission’s function, fuel, and nature, will help you writing a mission statement.
Keep in mind these three guidelines:
Top management is responsible for creating it (with input from the organization) and it is also accountable for it – if your organization has a well-written mission statement but there is no alignment between your workforce behaviors and your mission, top management is to be blamed for it.
When writing a mission statement, you want to write a statement with the following three characteristics:It must capture your organization’s soul: Why your organization exists – its contribution to society and the value your organization creates for its customers.It must be compelling – it must bring real meaning to the work so that it is easy to frame it as a noble purpose in the eyes of your workforce.It must be crystal clear – so that it is easy to remember it, to communicate it, and to understand it.
When your mission is well crafted, when it captures the soul of your organization, and when it inspires your people, your employees understand how what they do is tied to a greater cause (your company’s mission), they commit themselves to your company’s work, and you create a culture of high performance.
Unfortunately, there are too many well-intentioned mission statements that are too long, unclear, and difficult to understand.
When writing a mission statement, think about a useful and practical tool – a leadership tool – don’t think about a long-worded boring paragraph that embraces all of your organization best intentions.
There are different methods for writing a mission statement, and what works in one organization might not work in another – the choice is yours depending on your particular circumstances.
Nevertheless, to identify the core purpose of your organization we show you three methods that James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras suggest in “Building Your Company’s Vision” (Harvard Business Review, Boston, MA: 1996).
Use the “Five Whys”
Start with the descriptive statement: “We make X products or we deliver X services.”Then ask: “Why is that important?” five times.After a few “whys”, you’ll find that you are getting down to the fundamental purpose of the organization.
Or / and use the “Random Corporate Serial Killer” game:
Suppose you could sell the company to someone who would pay a price that everyone inside and outside the company agrees is more than fair (even with a generous set of assumptions about the expected future cash flows of the company). Suppose further that this buyer would guarantee stable employment for all employees at the same pay scale after the purchase but no guarantee that those jobs would be in the same industry. Finally, suppose the buyer plans to kill the company after the purchase – its products or services would be discontinued, its operations would be shut down, its brand names would be shelved forever, and so on. The company would utterly and completely cease to exist. Would you accept the offer? Why or why not?What would be lost if the company ceased to exist? Why is it important that the company continue to exist?
Or / and ask the question:“How could you frame the purpose of this organization so that if you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money in the bank to retire, would you nevertheless keep working here?”“What deeper sense of purpose would motivate you to continue to dedicate your precious creative energies to this company’s efforts?”
Writing a mission statement is not easy: It takes time and commitment – in stead, you will prefer to go do some real work. However, your mission is your organizing principle – your mission is the starting point of everything else in your organization:
Your values must be aligned with your mission, your vision must be aligned with your mission, your strategy must be aligned with your mission, your recruitment and retention systems must be aligned with your mission, your performance management practice must be aligned with your mission, etc.
In one word, your culture must be aligned with your mission – or put in different words – the everyday behaviors of all your employees must be aligned with your mission.
Without a reason for being, without a purpose, without a mission, it is very difficult – if not impossible – that your company reaches its full potential. If you abandon your mission you dump your competitive advantage.
Writing a mission statement is for the long haul: Missions don’t change – they are everlasting, they are an anchor, and a reference point.
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