There should be an app for mission statements. Just pick from a list of words you want used and the app would spit out word combinations. Tell it, “give me a ‘superior,’ throw in a ‘leading’, and top it off with something about “being committed” and out comes: We are committed to remaining the leading maker of superior blah blah etc. blah.
I haven’t searched for it, but it’s possible that this app already exists. See for yourself. Just Google a random sampling of mission statements and I think you’ll agree that many sound like somebody choked a Thesaurus. Others are merely gratuitous proclamations that could give an insomniac faster relief than warm milk and Home Improvement reruns.
Additionally, many mission statements completely miss the mark when it comes to specificity. Certainly, when writing a mission statement, it would not be wise to paint yourself into a corner. Every company needs to remain flexible as it moves into the great unknown. But if a mission statement is to point a company in a certain direction, there’s got to be somewhere in between pointing “in the general vicinity of North,” and “Two degrees West of Magnetic North.”
Here’s a radical idea. How about giving your mission statement a different mission?
Mission statements, many more prosy than prophetic, are written to provide a sense of “what we’re all here to do together.” But what if the same mission statement helped everyone understand “why” we are doing what we do together?
With that suggestion however, come some words of caution. There’s a great deal of buzz going around about knowing a company’s “why,” or becoming more “purpose-driven.” Don’t misinterpret this to mean that a company should explain its purpose in terms of the opportunity on which it is trying to capitalize i.e. “We are dedicated to providing only the very best insurance products in order to give our customers unparalleled protection at value prices.”
A more essential “why” goes deeper into a company’s motivation. It inspires passion among employees to uphold some important value that is found in everything it does. And it provides direction for creating an emotional resonance with customers. Similar to any human belief or value, a company’s central or core belief is the biggest engine available to power motivation. For the same insurance company, the better “why” might have something to do with its ardent belief that freedom from worry shouldn’t be an expensive proposition for anyone. In this way, the company’s mission is more about the religion it practices and less about the church it wants to build.
But there are three conditions, if you decide to champion a “why” in your mission statement:
1. It has to be unique and contain a certain amount of specificity. Otherwise, you might be mimicking others in your category. Stating, “We believe that all customers should be treated the way we would like to be treated ” is a more specific way to stand out as different and directive than simply saying, “We believe that customers should be treated well.”
2. If you’re going to say you live by your “why,” live by it. In order to be believed, you’ll have to prove it in everything you do. Otherwise you might as well stick to a lesser, more vague commitment: one that talks well but can’t walk very far.
3. Whatever your “why” is, it still has to prove profitable. Having a deeply meaningful reason to exist can provide good Karma, but sooner or later, without contributing to profitable growth, your company will look more like a charity than a business. Just make sure your mission is one that has been well-researched for profitability.
So, think about your mission. Is it missing something that can really make a difference? Here’s a simple test that can help you answer that question. If your mission statement doesn’t explain why you exist in terms of an important human value or a fervent belief in something that can contribute to the lives of your employees and customers, the answer is yes. If it merely directs function, than the answer is again, yes. And if you can’t consistently support your mission profitably, keep looking.