Have you ever read a company’s mission statement and immediately dismissed it as corporate claptrap? I know I have. In my experience, mission statements are either totally boring and generic or ridiculously grandiose and self-congratulatory. In fact, they’re usually so meaningless that most people couldn’t even tell you the mission of their own company.
But just because they’re often awful, doesn’t mean we should ditch mission statements altogether. A strong mission statement is a fantastic opportunity to show people (both inside and outside the business) what purpose the company serves. We just need to get better at writing mission statements – which is where this article comes in.
Remember, it’s all about purpose
I’ve written elsewhere about the difference between mission and vision statements, so I won’t spend a lot of time repeating the definition. But, in a nutshell, your mission statement should set out the company’s purpose, or why the business exists. In fact, “purpose statement” is a much better name for it.
When mission statements go bad
Before we get to the good bit, let’s start with examples of how mission statements can go horribly wrong.
Firstly, a mission statement should be focused on the here and now, not stating where you want to be in the future (save that for your vision statement). Confusing mission with vision is one of the most common mistakes companies make in their mission statement. Just look at these examples:
- Nike’s mission is to “bring inspiration to every athlete* in the world”. The asterisk then points out that anyone with a body is an athlete. So, just to be clear, the purpose of Nike is to bring inspiration to absolutely everyone in the world. Setting aside how ludicrously grandiose that is, it fundamentally isn’t a mission/purpose. If I was being forgiving I’d say it was a vision (aspiration) statement, but it’s really just a silly strapline.
- Likewise, Facebook’s mission is to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”, which again is more of a vision statement, and a bit of an over-the-top one at that.
- And Microsoft’s mission is to “empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more”. Again, this is more an ambition than a statement of why the business exists.
Another common mistake is writing a mission statement that is so boringly bland and corporate that it doesn’t say anything meaningful about what the company does. Take these mission statements, for example:
- “To create a shopping experience that pleases our customers; a workplace that creates opportunities and a great working environment for our associates; and a business that achieves financial success.” That was the mission of US grocery chain Albertsons – not that you can tell what the business actually does from that stream of corporate-speak.
- Or how about this one: “It is our mission to continue to conveniently create outcome-driven content and globally engineer diverse sources while encouraging personal growth.” Can you guess who that belongs to? No one. It was randomly generated by an online mission statement generator. But isn’t it depressingly close to a lot of real mission statements?
If you can keep your purpose in mind and avoid tired clichés, you’ll be well on your way to writing a meaningful mission statement.
How to get it right
I’ve found that a good way to start the process of writing a mission statement is to ask yourself these key questions:
- What is the core purpose of the organisation?
- What exactly do we do, and who do we do it for?
- How do we make life better for our customers?
- How is what we do different from our competitors?
You can then begin to draft your mission statement, based on the answers to those questions. My top tips for writing an amazing mission statement are:
- Be specific about what the business actually does. Not your goals or ambitions. Not where you want to be in the future. What does the business deliver right now?
- Keep it short. I once read a mission statement that was a snooze-inducing 250 words! Far better to stick to a snappy sentence or two.
- Paint a picture. Because you don’t have a lot of words to play with, you’ll need to wring the maximum amount of meaning and expression out of those words.
- But stay rooted in reality. Don’t promise the impossible or succumb to delusions of grandeur. Your employees should be able to look at the mission statement and relate it to what they do, day in and day out.
- Show how you make the world a better place. “Show” being the key word there, not “tell”. Too many companies plainly tell us they “make the world a better place” without demonstrating how they improve our lives.
- Be unique. Don’t use clichés like “be the best” or “market-leading”. Demonstrate what you do in a way no one else does.
Cracking examples of mission statements
Let’s finish up with some brilliant examples that put these tips into practice:
- Google’s mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, which would sound over the top coming from anyone else. But, for Google, this statement clearly shows us what they do, and paints a compelling picture of both the sheer scale of their task and the benefits of achieving it.
- eBay’s purpose is to “provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world”. Without using phrases like “the biggest” or “the best”, eBay neatly shows us their scale and dominance.
- “Saving people money so they can live better” is the short and sweet mission of retail giant Walmart.
- And Nestle tells us in no uncertain terms what they do: “provide consumers with the best tasting, most nutritious choices in a wide range of food and beverage categories and eating occasions, from morning to night.”
Where to go from here
I hope this article has inspired you to rethink your company mission statement. If you would like to know more about mission statements, vision statements and strategy, check out my articles on: