Constructing a meaningful mission statement is, I believe, a very important activity for any business so, in my business management training sessions, we always discuss the importance of having a well-crafted mission statement. I usually start the session by asking people to raise their hands if their organisation has a mission statement and then I ask them to raise their hands again if they can tell me what it is.
Over the years, I have asked those two questions of hundreds of different individuals and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have been able to tell me their company’s mission statement. Certainly, it is true that a lot more people could tell me roughly what the mission is about, the spirit of the statement as it were, but literally, only a handful, out of so many people, have been able to correctly tell me the company mission.
Now, I do understand the cynicism that surrounds the use of these statements. In fact a few years ago, here in the UK at least, they became in vogue. Everybody felt they needed a mission statement and many organisations crafted them only to find that it didn’t really make any difference to the company whether or not it had one. In many cases, it turns out that it is, largely, because of the way in which the statement is constructed, using a lengthy sentence that is far too generic and insipid to be memorable.
If people can’t even remember the mission statement, especially middle managers, how on Earth does the organisation expect to achieve its mission? Conversely, when people have clarity over what the organisation is fundamentally trying to achieve, the power of the mission is released into the decision-making processes of the company. The company needs to be serious, not just about its mission (which, hopefully, it is) but also about the articulation of its mission.
So, here are the essential characteristics of a really good mission statement. It should be:
- Forward Looking
- A True Statement of Intent
- Something that People Care About
Over the years, I have collected a few example statements that I think are excellent:
To put a man on the moon before the end of the decade – NASA
To win by more than 1 – 0 – Bayern Munich
To be the Number 1 Car Rental Company in Europe – Avis
The above examples are all very well-crafted and fit the bill in terms of the foregoing criteria. I usually get people to think about the difference between the NASA and the Bayern Munich statements. The Bayern Munich statement never needs to be changed, whereas the NASA one does once the mission is achieved. Both of these types of mission are fine and both translate well into meaningful, memorable and inspirational statements of intent.
Additionally, I contrast the Bayern Munich statement with what many organisations might have come up with:
To play football of the highest quality, with style and flair, whilst remaining totally committed to winning games for the benefit of the fans, the board and the future success of the club.
Now that, in essence, is what many companies actually do, when all they really need to say is, “to win by more than 1-0.” What a beautiful statement that is. It says everything that is in my more wordy version, but it says it in such a way that the people in the club will never need to me told more than once and, although it conveys the essence of what the club stands for (football of the highest quality, played with style and flair – all true) they will never forget it.