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Your Mission? Build Your Company’s Best Mission Statement Ever!

By Dr. Chris Bart |

Mission Statements are a paradox: they are the most popular management tool of the past twenty-five years and yet, often the least respected.

Chances are your company has one -- framed nicely in the lobby perhaps -- but is it serving any valuable purpose?   If built correctly, however, a mission statement will communicate clearly to each and every employee the reason that your company exists and, best of all, govern their actions accordingly.   

Strong leaders understand that without a well-crafted mission statement, it will be extremely difficult to have employees fully aligned to the degree necessary to compete in today's business environment. For over two decades I have researched mission statements – and every piece of evidence indicates that great mission statements help drive an organization's bottom line.

Unfortunately, too many organizations approach the creation of their mission statement with careless abandon —"I'll just go back to my office and whip one off right now." — or in a frenzied rush — "What's taking so long, we got a business to run!".

Taking such approaches, however, are a guaranteed recipe for mission failure. To be sure, while the creation of a great mission should not be a difficult or lengthy process, there actually are some ‘rules of the road' which, if followed, will get you to your ultimate destination — to become a mission driven organization. The following three simple guidelines will help you make this happen.

1. Your mission development process must involve a cross-section of employees

A mission's successful creation depends on buy-in from both formal and informal leaders in an organization.  A common employee criticism I've heard repeatedly, particularly from the front line, is "It's not my mission — I wasn't included in creating it and neither were any of my peers."

Input from a wide variety of sources should be solicited, considered and incorporated into the final document. If your company is small — involve everyone!   

2.  The mission statement should focus on your stakeholders' real needs 

For most organizations, there are four key stakeholders — customers, employees, owners and the society at large.  Interestingly, the best mission statements put their emphasis on the customers and employees.

The most effective ones also clearly and succinctly zero in on what the firm promises to do for each stakeholder group in exchange for their loyalty and commitment. Those promises should be rooted in a clear understanding of what each stakeholder wants, needs and expects from the organization. So do your homework.

3.   Be precise and conversational

The ideal length of a mission statement is often debated.  If a mission statement includes a whole bevy of priorities it will likely be too long.  Conversely, a one sentence blurb will rarely provide enough guidance.

My research shows that most great mission statements run 60 – 80 words. Choose your words carefully. And beware that word order counts.

Also, be sure to write the mission statement in a manner that is conversational so that, quite simply, it can be included in the verbal exchanges that occur throughout the day-to-day business activities.  If it is too academic or high brow, it won't be easily understood and it definitely will not be part of your business life.

An example of a well written mission statement is from the Cowan Insurance Company:

 

THE MISSION OF THE COWAN INSURANCE COMPANY

We treat each other, and ALL those with whom we interact, with honesty, respect and caring.

TO OUR CLIENTS

We are a responsive and reliable provider of a broad scope of high quality, innovative solutions.

TO OUR EMPLOYEES

We provide the opportunity for personal growth and development in a professional, motivating, collaborative team environment where contributions are recognized.

TO OUR COMMUNITIES

We are committed to being a respected corporate citizen that gives back and contributes to the well being of our communities.

We will grow and expand our business while providing fair returns and allowing for reinvestment.

 

After the mission is created... you're not finished!

If you currently have a mission statement, you may think you are done.  Here's a test - try writing it out right now.  Then ask your assistant and a new employee to do the same thing.  How did that go?  Familiarity is the first step in any mission's successful implementation.  The bottom line is that if you can't say it, you can't live it!  Once you build your mission statement, make sure that everyone knows about it. 

I'm frequently asked how to make a mission statement come to life.  Be sure to refer to it frequently in meetings.  Managers must relate their plans and budgets to it and it must form the basis from which training, recruitment, promotion, reward and disciplinary programs are developed.  Also, systematically and regularly evaluate your progress against the mission. To make your mission statement truly powerful, make it relate to every activity.  Believe me; you cannot possibly refer to it too often.

So, take a look at your organization's mission with fresh eyes and ask yourself: Are we truly living our mission? If the answer is ‘no', then use the tips in this article to build that winning mission statement that will beat all your competitors and leave them wondering what secret mission you have that they are missing.

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