Mission statements are now more likely to generate eye rolls than enthusiasm. Once every corporation began trumpeting their unimpeachable integrity, heartwarming values and unparalleled dedication to customers and suppliers, a backlash was likely inevitable.
Nevertheless, when taken seriously, a mission statement can brilliantly clarify and broadcast the raison d'etre of an individual, organisation or business. Without clarity around why your business exists and how you want it to operate, it's very difficult for you and your staff to make it successful.
Questions to ask
Stating your purpose is one of those tasks that seems straightforward but quickly becomes anything but when you actually attempt it. A mission statement needs to concisely encapsulate what your business does and how it does it. You may find answering those questions, especially the latter one, involves a lot of thought and perhaps brainstorming with your staff. It is also often helpful to ask the following three questions:
What is the key market for the product or service the business is providing?
Exactly what product or service is the business providing to clients?
What makes the product or services provided by the business different to those of competitors?
Keep it realistic, but inspirational
Here are the mission statements of three successful businesses:
Google's mission is to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.
Courtyard by Marriott:
To provide economy and quality-minded travellers with a premier, moderate-priced lodging facility which is consistently perceived as clean, comfortable, well-maintained and attractive, staffed by friendly, attentive and efficient people.
Only Courtyard by Marriott comprehensively answers all the questions referred to above, but all three examples convey a powerful sense of what the brand stands for and are attractive to staff, customers and suppliers. There are plenty of coffee sellers you could work for or patronise, but most would want to be involved in one that sees its purpose as uplifting the human spirit rather than just shifting as many lattes as possible. Likewise, would Google consistently top 'Most Desired Employer' lists around the world if it wasn't recognised as being engaged in the epic and noble task of democratising all the information ever created, rather than just selling online advertising?
An effective summary of your core business expresses the values that drive brand personality, customer service and marketing messages. Every day, you and your staff will face dozens of decisions about everything, from what benchmarks are important to what targets should be set to how to deal with difficult suppliers. Rather than having to constantly reinvent the wheel, having a clearly articulated philosophy to refer to can help make it clear what the appropriate course of action for your particular business is.
Break free of the babble
Though Courtyard by Marriott answers all the questions a mission statement should address, chances are that it hasn't lodged in your mind the way Starbucks and Google's efforts have. If there is one place where boilerplate corporate babble falls flat, it's in a mission statement. Try to distil your core mission down to one truly memorable sentence made up of no more than 20 straightforward but powerful words.
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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Nigel is a freelance journalist and web content provider. Over the past 15 years he has worked for many of Australia's major print media companies and written for a wide range of newspapers, magazines, trade publications and websites. Nigel most enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, popular culture, politics, social trends and small business.