An army of one, a behemoth business of 10,000, or a team somewhere in between—every company needs a distinct mission statement to define, defend and develop their culture from ideas into a thriving organization.
Regrettably, the mission statement has become a check-box task, littered with vague corporate-jargon-babble, printed and posted in the same exact spot in each identical cubicle. Resulting in an odd dichotomy of being both—utterly worthless for the company’s employees and incredibly illuminating of their hollow culture—simultaneously.
Take exhibit A—Mega-Global-Conglomerate Corp.’s freshly minted, consultant-crafted mission statement:
“Our mission is to synergize our core competencies into market leading strategies, while leveraging class-leading technologies into best-in-class solution streams for vital stakeholders while maximizing returns for our shareholders.”
“Ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords,” is how renowned cultural commentator, Weird Al Yankovic, describes it. Yankovic skewers the corporate world’s addiction to meaningless mumbo-jumbo in “Mission Statement,” a song from his latest album.
In what is most certainly a first in the world of business advice columns, I implore you to watch Weird Al’s music video and take careful note of the language he uses before you start writing (or rewriting) your mission statement.
With a crystal clear picture of what not to do (or say) with your mission statement, next shift your focus to exemplary examples—the organizations whose distinct missions define every aspect of their culture, and thus, how they do business.
In not so shocking news, the beloved brands known for their customer service (the same brands we’ve been examining) are all guided by meaningful, well-defined missions. Carefully crafted in consideration of their customers, their missions orient and sharpen their employees to thrive in the context of their unique cultures.
For these brands, the mission (and values) statement is a reliable rock—the unmoving foundation everything else is built upon. Weaken or remove the foundation, and it all crumbles.
By defining and communicating a clear mission, they also outfit their employees with a handy, trusty compass. Unflappably reliable and uncompromising, these small statements guide the entire organization toward the bigger picture with every step they take.
The legendary customer-centric cultures of say, Zappos or Nordstrom, didn’t materialize impossibly out of thin air. They didn’t cultivate cultures with wishes and happy thoughts. Instead, they started the same way you can start TODAY, by dedicating the time required to discover and define who they were and what they wanted to accomplish.
Whatever you want to call it—mission statement, statement of purpose, etc.—the first step to actively building a renewed culture is establishing your mission.
As an entrepreneur the pieces of your dream have been swirling in your head for years, but running the actual business got in the way, and you never found time to slow down, sit down and encapsulated those dreams into a succinct mission statement.
Regardless of where your business stands, now is the time to skillfully and strategically craft a mission statement to define why your company exists, where it is headed and the values you want to get you there.
Before you actually start writing, keep in mind the three-fold benefits you want from your new mission statement:
1. Identity and purpose: Give you, your employees and your customers a clear portrait of who your company is and what sets you apart from your competitors. Remember the solid foundation. So clear that every single employee (or hopefully customer) can instantly and instinctively repeat your rallying cry—letting all the curious know what you stand for.
2. Direction: Pointing your entire organization in the right direction, it will become an accessible instrument you and your team members rely on to guide decisions. Easy to use and reliable, your compass directs your entire team to grow, change and compete in ways befitting your culture.
3. Inspiration: A clearly defined mission statement, often combined with an enumerated list of your culture’s core values, communicated and demonstrated by leaders links each employee (as well as your customers) to the bigger, more inspiring story of what your company is doing.
First step—even if you are a solo shop—you need to reach out and find the answers to a few important questions.
Here is a great set of questions to start:
· What exactly do we (or want to) do? What particular thing can only you do?
· Why are you in business? Why do you do what it is you do? Why does your company exist?
· How do you do it?
· Whom do we do it for? Who are our customers? How would you like to treat customers?
· What sets you apart from every other company? What unique value do you bring to market?
· What do you want your company to be known for?
· Where are you heading? What do you want to accomplish?
· What kind of workplace do you want to have?
Pouring your cultural foundation is the optimal opportunity to include everyone you possibly can—yourself (and your family, friends and mentors if you are your entire business), your team, your customers—into the process of answering these questions. You want a diversity of ideas and backgrounds, as well as embedding a spirit of inclusivity community deep into cultural DNA. Use your actions to ensure those you ask, you are committed to incorporating their thoughts, feedback and input.
This is a great opportunity to listen to your team, gather ideas and genuinely demonstrate how deeply your culture values their opinions and active participation. Establish an open and honest environment to encourage all parties to share their answers to these important questions.
After an intense introspective ideation cycle, take a step back to gaze at and learn from the companies you most admire.
Together with your team, reflect on the brands you love, and identify their mission and values statements. In addition to discovering strong real-world examples of how to write a mission statement, you can observe how others successfully connect their culture and values to a powerful, written statement.
The customer is always write, leave room for your customers
If you want to build a customer-centric culture at your company, then there must be a place in your mission statement for your customers.
Literally…you need to write your customers into your mission statement. Define not just who they are, but describe how important they are to your company. You could even go as far as enumerating specifically how you will treat them.
Loaded with a litany of great ideas and strong principles that emerged from your discussions, now’s the time to prioritize. Synthesize all the answers to the questions you received, all the related ideas that popped up in discussions, and as a group comb over it all.
The similar themes and common values that materialize from the mass of ideas become a distilled list of succinct statements. A list you then prioritize from most important to least important, as they relate to representing your desired culture.
Once ranked, start integrating the simple statements into a coherent, concise statement.
Don’t expect this roughest of rough drafts you just frankensteined together to be perfect, or even presentable. This is a jagged rock containing an invaluable core you are going to polish into a beautiful stone.
Remember the wisdom of Weird Al, and dump the buzzwords and industry jargon.
The more specific you get while writing your mission statement, the easier it will be for your team members to exemplify the culture you desire—whether they helped brainstorm the statement or join 20 years later.
Another reminder: you can’t be everything to everyone. So don’t try to write a mission statement full of vague platitudes hoping to do so. Instead of placating the masses, hone your mission with every single word toward the exact customers you desire to wow.
Conventional corporate wisdom dictates going gray, or beige, or if you are feeling particularly rebellious a calm off-white.
Don’t shun color. Instead, embrace evocative language that illuminates the character and individuality of your company.
Your mission statement is an amazing opportunity to establish and express the unique personality you want your brand to embody. Avoiding the bland, the business-y and the buzzwords. Tap into the voice of actual humans at your company and unlock more than a mere mission—gain a guiding set of principles your team is proud of, and motivated by.
Freshly minted mission statement in hand, one important step remains. And no, it isn’t plastering your walls and the back of your new business cards with your new statement.
Why waste the ink with hollow words, when you can activate the true, and total, power of your mission statement by living it and your core values out daily. Establish a rhythm at your company to engage everyone in the mission, by sharing stories that demonstrate your values and culture in action—examining specific actions that reflect your mission statement.