Do you have a mission statement for your business? If not, don’t worry. They’re basically useless, and mostly an exercise in box-ticking so the leadership team can get on with leadering, and the marketing department has something to put on the website.
Personally, I don’t think mission statements belong anywhere near your website, and neither do vision statements, photos of your building or your cat puke values. These are inside voice things that should be externally manifest in how you have conversations with shareholders, customers, regulators and the universe, in general.
Now, if you insist on having a mission statement on your website or intranet because it’s easier than changing the navigation drop down, or because it’s the only sensible thing you can think of to say, I am going to suggest you reconsider the whole thing.
Most mission statements sound something like this:
Our mission is to manufacture the best ironing boards while reducing our environmental impact, being kind to children and putting safety first through our diverse workforce by innovating in a results-oriented way.
Did you throw up a little in your mouth like I just did? How about this one from Disney:
To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products.
I don’t know about you, but I would think a company like that could do a bit better. Where’s the magic? Where’s the wonder? Where, for the love of Pete, are the customers?
Let’s try another: Delivers proven solutions that drive innovation and improve performance. This could literally belong to almost any company on the planet. It happens to be the mission statement for SAS.
Here’s the problem. Most mission statements put the company at the centre of the whole thing, and then attempt to make it relevant in the context of as many stakeholders as they can fit in the sentence. Like this healthcare company:
To provide superior quality healthcare services that: PATIENTS recommend to family and friends, PHYSICIANS prefer for their patients, PURCHASERS select for their clients, EMPLOYEES are proud of, and INVESTORS seek for long-term returns.
For the life of me I can’t figure out what the capital letters are all about.
I’m going to suggest that when we put the customer or the cause at the centre of it, things start to look up and make sense. The model looks a bit like this:
Our mission is to [create/deliver/make] [insert compelling adjective here] [insert problem you solve here] [insert who you serve here]. For example: Our mission is to create outstanding desserts that restaurant customers remember for years. Then we stop.
Nobody actually cares how we go about doing that. Nobody needs to know we are nice to employees, trees, food inspectors and shareholders. That stuff should go without saying. All the world needs to know is how we are serving some good.
Let’s give it a whirl for an HVAC company: Our mission is to create comfortable spaces for Canadian workers.
Or a warehouse: Our mission is to safely store valuable things for questionable organizations.
Or a food bank: Our mission is to feed hungry people in the east end.
Missions Don’t Pander
Unlike so many standard mission statements, things like these are not conditional. They’re a statement of what, at a minimum, needs to happen each day. It makes clear what it is that every person in the organization is ultimately there to do. It doesn’t pander to notions of good corporate citizenship; it doesn’t tick a bunch of feel-good boxes, and it doesn’t dwell on motive, because it doesn’t need to.
Kickstarter has it right: To help bring creative projects to life. Clear, accurate, unambiguous, and all about the thing they serve, creative projects.
Intuit is on the right track, with this one: To improve its customers’ financial lives so profoundly, they couldn’t imagine going back to the old way. Other than that last clause, it’s pretty good, and look who’s in the middle of the mission.
Genetech almost gets there with this: To develop drugs to address significant unmet medical needs. I’d add the word customers’ after address but it’s otherwise pretty great.
TED nails it in two words: Spread ideas.
Google has also managed to put a good mission together. To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Virgin Atlantic has a mission its people can get next to: To embrace the human spirit and let it fly.
Nike nails it, too: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Purina could lose the last five words and still have a great mission statement. Helping pets live longer, happier and healthier lives through proper nutrition and care.
Hallmark is off to a good start but seems to feel it needs to mention all the greeting card categories by name. Instead of: makes the world a more caring place by helping people laugh, love, heal, say thanks, reach out and make meaningful connections with others.
What about: Helping people make meaningful connections.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Walmart gets it: We save people money so they can live better.
Staying with retail, compare and contrast Zappos: To provide the best customer service possible and Nordstrom: Committed to providing our customers with the best possible service—and to improving it every day.
Same sentiment. Same putting the customer in the middle. But somehow, in adding twice as many words, Nordstrom makes it half as powerful. It’s also curious why Nordstrom needs to add the last bit about improving. If it’s the best possible service, by definition, it doesn’t need improving. That screams: We have a service issue and are attempting to solve it with our mission statement.
Honest Tea is on track with this: to create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages. Then they add another sentence that really isn’t helpful: We strive to grow our business with the same honesty and integrity we use to craft our recipes, with sustainability and great taste for all. We don’t need to know they want to grow their business; we should be able to assume they act with honesty and integrity, and they’ve already told us the stuff tastes nice. Plus they need help with punctuation. In this case, keeping it to the first bit would be just fine.
This is like that healthcare company we saw earlier. If they had just stopped after the first sentence, it would have read: “provide superior quality healthcare services. Do that and the rest of the statement is actually pretty redundant.
Forbes has managed to put its readers into its mission, but kind of misses the whole point: To deliver information on the people, ideas and technologies changing the world to our community of affluent business decision makers. That’s not a mission statement; it’s a rate sheet pitch. What about just delivering information about our changing world to business people?
American Express has this as its mission: We work hard every day to make American Express the world’s most respected service brand. Yikes. How is that inspiring? No mention anywhere of customers; it will all boil down to how they stack up against every other service business in the NPS nonsense.
Toyota makes the whole shebang feel like the first line of a marketing plan: To attract and attain customers with high-valued products and services and the most satisfying ownership experience in America.
Then there’s this mess from USAA: To facilitate the financial security of its members, associates, and their families through provision of a full range of highly competitive financial products and services. I’m going to go ahead and suggest that if the world facilitate appears in your mission, you might need to work on it a bit.
Dow Chemical’s stakeholders are hanging out in a dodgy neighbourhood: To passionately create innovation for our stakeholders at the intersection of chemistry, biology and physics.
Then there’s this twaddle from Barnes and Noble: To operate the best omni-channel speciality retail business in America, helping both our customers and booksellers reach their aspirations, while being a credit to the communities we serve.
Just makes you want to jump out of bed and get to work, doesn’t it?
And that’s exactly what a mission statement is supposed to do: it’s supposed to articulate why everyone is coming to work each day. It’s supposed to inspire your people, not make them feel inadequate or part of something they don’t understand. It’s about their conversation with your customers, and nothing more.
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BizMarketer is written by Elizabeth Williams
I help companies have better conversations
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org