What is it about your company culture that defines your organization's identity and builds your employee alignment? How do you tell the world about the values behind your company? A mission statement keeps everyone on the same page with respect to why you're even in business at all. While you may feel that your primary purpose for existing is to be financially profitable, no company will achieve long-term success if its only mission is "to make money." Larger goals matter, both for you and for your employees. Here's an exploration of what mission statements are and are not, together with five characteristics that amazing company mission statements all have in common.
What is a mission statement, exactly?
A mission statement "declares the purpose of an organization and defines the reason for the company's existence," according to Business News Daily. It's different from a slogan, which is a marketing phrase designed solely to catch the attention of potential customers. It's also different from a vision statement, which is longer and is designed to lay out your company's future. Also, while your mission statement might be incorporated into your business plan, it's not intended to describe the nuts and bolts of operating.
Mission statements are as varied as individual companies, but the really outstanding ones do have certain characteristics in common:
1. They are short and punchy
A mission statement shouldn't be an essay. You'll have better luck aligning your employees when they can remember what your mission statement actually is, instead of recalling it merely as a wall of words on a sign somewhere. Likewise, it should not be written in corporate jargon. Gee Ranasinha, CEO of marketing firm Kexino, puts it this way: "Mission statements need to be written using words and sentences that 'normal' people use and understand."
Casual dining giant Darden Restaurants has truly mastered the art of brevity. Its mission statement: "To nourish and delight everyone we serve." Darden saves a deeper dive into their company's values for their employee page, on which they go into much more detail.
2. They start with an action verb
It's helpful to read a few online lists of the very best mission statements. For instance, in this list you'll notice that most of the statements have an action word at the beginning of the statement. After the word "To..." you see such words as "inspire," "create," "reinvent," "give" and so on. Although there are variations in which some companies describe what they are going to "be" rather than what they're going to "do," the majority use very active phrasing.
3. They are specific
Your mission statement should reflect the specific nature of your business and define your company culture and character. Check out two different statements, demonstrating this point. Here's an example: "Deliver to customers and employees." Would you be able to tell what kind of product this company is selling? Now compare the first example with, "To discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases." This statement, from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, tells you precisely what the company does.
4. They are directed both inside and outside
Here's an example of a statement that's only inner-directed: "The company's primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards." Would this persuade you to become a customer? They are actually a dairy product wholesaler, but their mission statement is almost solely directed at their own staff and stockholders.
In contrast, Patagonia's statement is addressed to everyone on the outside as well as on the inside: "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." Customers will gain confidence when they read this statement, while employee motivation will be strengthened by the clear articulation of goals.
5. They are revisited every few years
Mission statements must grow with the company. Regardless of how carefully you plan the path of your business, the passage of years will inevitably bring evolution. In order to keep your company's mission statement absolutely relevant, it should be reevaluated every few years. While you may not need to entirely rewrite it, companies often find that it's necessary to add something to a mission statement as they move forward with development.
Starbucks provides a great example of corporate evolution. In the beginning, their mission statement was, "To establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffees in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow." Nothing wrong with that -- but as they grew, they wanted to express something more. Their current mission: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time." Clearly this illustrates a shift in the company culture, and would be noticed by customers as well as by employees.
Writing a strong mission statement conveys your company's "true passions and values," according to Wendy Maynard, Strategic Director of Kinesis, a marketing firm. Maynard points out that the rewards for putting the time and effort into crafting a powerful mission statement will provide real value to your company. To learn more, read our blog on the Top 5 Company Missions and Values.
At Achievers, our mission is to change the way the world works. Through the power of recognition and listening, our award-winning employee engagement platform aligns employees with business objectives and company values.
To learn more about how to improve your company culture, access our webinar recording, "Hack HR to Create Best-in-Class Employee Experiences."
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