Published on 01/22/2017
It’s time that mission statements and vision statements get their just rewards; although often overlooked, they’re key to the corporate strategy process. They play a critical role – or should play a critical role – as bookends for every strategic and operational plan. In short, think of the mission statement as the starting point and the vision as the destination. Without mission statements and vision statements, plans can and will wander around aimlessly, travelling to a lot of exotic locales, but never actually getting to where they need to be.
In this post we tackle the mission statement as a critical component of your corporate strategy process.
The Mission Statement Provides a Beginning
Your mission statement answers the question, “Why do we exist?” It gives the organization purpose and meaning and speaks to why people want to work for your company. It begins to answer the question, what is strategic management and planning. If you’re a for-profit organization, the fundamental mission of the business is to create shareholder wealth, but that won’t attract anyone to come work for you, and it does not give rise to a bigger corporate purpose.
Every organization needs to define its fundamental purpose, philosophy, and values as part of the corporate strategy process. The mission statement answers the basic questions of why your company exists and describes the needs your company was created to fulfill, but it is NOT about your products and services. It is about why you provide them.
For instance, the mission of AchieveIt is “equipping business leaders to achieve their most important initiatives.” It is about accelerating the results curve. We come to work every day driven by the idea of transforming businesses by helping them get more and better results faster — whether for our own company or for the clients we serve. How we do this is through our software and services, which we are continually enhancing to drive better results. But how we accomplish our mission today may be different from how we accomplish it tomorrow. The mission statement points us in the right direction. Our strategic and operational plans become the road map. Without the guidance of our mission statement, programmatic priorities would be difficult to establish and the corporate strategy process would become muddled.
A mission statement, therefore, provides the basis for judging the success of an organization and its programs. It helps the organization verify if it is on the right track and making the right decisions. It provides direction when the organization is tempted by distractions and forced to adapt to new demands. Attention to mission helps the organization adhere to its primary purpose and serves as a touchstone for decision-making during times of conflict. With a strong mission statement in place, it is very easy to identify your goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.
A mission statement can also be used as a tool for resource allocation for staff, donors, volunteers, and community involvement.
Powerful Mission Statements
Consider these powerful mission statements:
- Harley-Davidson: We fulfill dreams through the experiences of motorcycling.
- Southwest Airlines: We are dedicated to the highest level of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.
- MD Anderson Cancer Center: To make cancer history.
- Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Notice that none of these organizations’ mission statements include anything about what they do; instead, they focus on the core of their existence. It is this core that attracts and retains employees, provides market differentiation, and attracts customers. For instance, Harley-Davidson has an insanely loyal customer base that now includes more than 250 clubs who provide thousands of volunteer hours through the Harley-Davidson Foundation. These are people attracted to Harley-Davidson because they share a common belief that absolute freedom is found on a motorcycle on the open road.
Revisit Your Mission During the Corporate Strategy Process
Even if your organization has a succinct, empowering mission statement like Harley-Davidson’s, you should revisit it on a regular basis. When your organization goes through the annual corporate strategy process to develop your strategic plan, your mission statement should be discussed – and even evaluated. It is of the utmost importance to keep your strategic planning framework strong and in place. Why? One of the fundamental purposes of strategic planning is to fulfill the mission; revisiting the mission ensures your strategic plan succeeds in that regard. Beyond strategic planning, you should consider revising your mission statement if you answer “no” to any of the follow eight questions:
- Is it short (10 words or less) and sharply focused? Would it fit on a t-shirt? A bumper sticker? A billboard?
- Do staff, management, and board members know the mission statement? Is it clear and easily understood?
- Can you train around it? Does everyone in the organization know exactly how to fulfill the mission every day?
- Does it define why you do what you do?
- Does it provide direction for doing the right things?
- Does it inspire your passion and commitment?
- Does it say, in the end, what you want to be remembered for?
- Have you revisited your mission statement in the last three years?
To help you develop a powerful mission statement that answers the question, “Why do we exist?”, we offer a white paper entitled, “Mission Statements: A How-To.”