How to write a mission statement

By Leon Gettler

Mission and vision statements might help clarify a company's strategy and purpose. But the problems start when the promise, often pinned up on walls and elevators in the workplace, fails to match the reality.

The Economist journalists John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge draw an interesting parallel about this discord between ideology and reality in their thought-provoking book, The Witch Doctors. Many managers today, they say, are similar to Soviet bureaucrats who eke out an existence in a dual zone: the politically correct universe of officially sanctioned ideology, and the real world.

So how do you create a good mission statement that's not in the dual zone?

Firstly, ask yourself what the company really aims to achieve. Don't focus on vague goals like being a leading source of quality products and services when everyone else wants to do the same. Focus on what makes your business different – your competitive advantage.

Decide whether your mission statement is long term or short term. It can't be both. Keep it short and sweet: no more than two sentences and make sure they're memorable. The sentences need four ingredients: value, inspiration, plausibility, and specificity.

The most successful mission statements are a collaborative effort, created by companies that ensure everyone has a stake in the process. This is because an organisation’s core values must be relevant to the workforce in order to be implemented successfully. Effective mission and vision statements incorporate concepts that are highly pertinent to the day-to-day working lives of staff.

While the components of mission statements vary across companies and industries, the guiding principles are the same.

Be inclusive

Creating a mission statement is not always a democratic process but there should be involvement and agreement at all levels of the organisation. Avoid false consensus. The aim of the exercise is to direct and motivate.

Consider the business culture

Culture is important because it supports strategy and purpose. If the mission statement does not fit the business culture, it can become a bloodless declaration of purpose. An effective mission statement with a good cultural fit is an excellent tool for setting policies, establishing activities, guiding resource allocation and laying down behavioural guidelines.

Be specific

Any goals and objectives that flow from the statement must be specific and measurable with clear deadlines.

Review and revise

Mission statements are not set in stone. Regular reviews are important because companies need to be agile in a volatile climate.

A mission statement's value is not just in the substance but also in the journey itself. Articulating a common vision allows staff and stakeholders to focus on the needs of the organisation and what they are seeking to achieve as a group. The process can even be more valuable than the end product.

What is your company's mission statement?


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