In any organization, it is the employees that deliver on the companyâs strategy. For that reason, fostering good communication habits and transparency among your team is critical to success. Your mission statement is a powerful, unifying communication tool that can provide inspiration and direction for where the organization wants to go.
When your team understands and embodies a well-designed, high-quality mission statement, it pays off in more consistent delivery to customers. Without a codified statement, well-trained and motivated employees will head in the direction that they (individually or in small groups) believe is best, risking becoming out of alignment with the overall strategic focus leaders want.
I have been examining mission statements for the past two decades and have concluded that they tend to fall into one of five categories based on both the senior managementâs goals and the employeesâ reaction. These include:
The well-designed, widely adopted mission statement
In category #1, the well-designed mission statement, senior management knows where itâs taking the organization, and works with employees to keep it top-most in their minds. Employees feel empowered, and that they have a tangible direction guiding their work.Â
We have a mission statement, now letâs get back to work
Category #2 includes organizations that embody the ethos:Â âWe finally have a mission statementânow get back to work.â With this category, senior management implies that âthis mission thingâ isnât very important.Â
Management feels itâs more important to just meet budget and is only putting out a mission statement for the public and the analysts. It sees the statement as just full of words that no one can really disagree with.Â
Employeesâ reaction is embarrassment. Ask these employees about their mission, and only a few can tell you what it is (sort of), but they quickly admit that isnât what they do each day and so it doesnât really matter.
Vague to the point that it isnât useful
In category #3, âWe have no mission — would you consider a strategic statement, a statement of purpose, or an overarching goal?â Here, senior management implies that âspecificity is just not our thing; we prefer to be vague.â Employees react by only loosely knowing whatâs desired. They think itâs a good thing that this statement doesnât impact them day-to-day.Â
Values but no direction
Companies in category #4, if theyâre honest, might say: âWeâre not sure who we are, but we have âvalues.ââ The senior management implies here that, as long as the employees honor these values, anything goes. Unfortunately for employees, confusion reigns. Leaders find themselves leaking corporate assets in an attempt to define the value concepts, while the company spends inordinate effort examining all possibilities for growth.Â
The overarching preference for retaining optionality
Leaders in category #5 are likely to be guided by the idea that âStatements of any kind might restrict our options, so we have none.â With this, senior management says it will do anything to make money, increase market share and grow the company. This approach leaves employees feeling disempowered, often with a sense of desperation. Company resources are poured into any possibility for growth, and politics wins the day.
Why the well-designed, well-adopted mission statement supports your business
A great mission statement has a unique ability to focus the efforts of every employee in the organization if, and only if, itâs designed well and is implemented with a singular focus that places it above all the companyâs daily firefights.Â
Doing âgoodâ in the typical employeeâs day is insufficient for the firm to truly set itself apart from the rest of its competitors. What one employee believes is âgoodâ may exactly counter the efforts of another employeeâs interpretation of âgood.â On even a small scale, this creates a situation where everyone is working extremely hard, and yet the firm seems to constantly achieve only average returns.Â
An organization of people exists to accomplish what the individual canât accomplish alone. The most pressing issues that develop as the organization grows are ones of coordination and communication. As Henry Mintzberg pointed out many years ago in his definitive book on structuring organizations, the issues of coordination and communication are really the continual struggle to get employee effort focused on the unique mission of the organization.
Once you have figured out what constitutes the competitive advantages for the organization, the implementation of that strategy logically begins with a useful, focused mission, grounded in those advantages, that every individual in the company can use to make decisions.Â Â
My long history of assisting organizations in designing effective mission statements has led me to develop a five-point approach to creating effective mission statements. These five points should drive the âartâ of designing a quality statement. Mission statements should be:Â
- Short. It fit on a coffee mug.
- Simple. The mission should be something that everyone in the company can learn and understand.
- Directional. It should guide every individual in the company every day.
- Actionable. It tells everyone exactly what the company does and does not do.
- Measurable. A metric can be developed for every part of the mission statement.