Customers today aren’t interested in spending their hard-earned money any old place. They want something more – a cohesive experience, a sense that the business they’re patronizing shares their values and principles. They need a mission.
It’s been said before that a brand is a promise. A mission statement, then, is this promise in written form – a statement, a vow, a pledge that extends as much to a company’s customers and prospects as to its investors and employees.
Your mission statement is an extension of your company – a foundation not just for your day-to-day operations, but for your larger presence in the world. It’s a big deal, and in today’s climate, it isn’t just a “nice to have” in today’s professional climate; it’s a must – as important, I’d argue, as any advertising campaign.
A mission statement offers a window into your business
Officially, a mission statement is a short–formal summary of a company or organization’s aims and values. Unofficially, it’s a reflection of a business’s personality and principles, and often a reliable indication of how they’re likely to treat their customers.
A well-crafted mission statement should contain your organization’s business goals – a social or economic motivation – and clearly identify the functional and philosophical values your product or service upholds; the specifics of what you do and why you do it.
Take, as an example, the official statement for Starbucks Coffee: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” Here, the business goal of Starbucks is the “cup” of coffee. The functional value, of course, is cups of coffee that nourish people and their neighborhoods – go beyond what’s expected of the traditional cup of coffee. And the philosophical value, finally, is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit” – an aspiration to offer coffee that transcends and transforms. We can see in this a clear tripartite structure of values: business, functional, philosophical.
We can also see this in what used to be TOMS’ mission statement: “To make life more comfortable.” The business goal and functional value are obvious at a level – TOMS is a known purveyor of shoes, so the “comfort” they hope to provide us is in likely in those shoes. But the philosophical goal reaches a bit further; TOMS, we should remember, has a “one-for-one” model – a pair of shoes for someone in need for every pair purchased. The comfort, here, is both tangible and figurative; the functional dovetails with the philosophical.
Does anybody actually read mission statements?
Employees may read the statement to re-orient themselves and help guide business decisions. Prospective employees read them, too. In fact, I have a friend who won’t take a job with any company without first examining and scrutinizing their mission statement. She uses the written words as clues to inform her impression of the company and understand what they value.
Your customers or investors can and probably will read your statement, too. They’ll read the statement to get a feel for what your company is all about – what it holds dear, and where it will not waver.
How to create a mission statement
Now let’s get tactical and begin to craft your company’s mission statement.
First, identify what things your company holds at its core. Think through brand and cultural tenets. This statement is where your close-fisted items – the non-negotiables – go. So do the things that make you different from the competitors. Get your principles down on paper. Hold them close.
Also jot down a few philosophies or catch phrases you hear your people using. Those internal company-speak slogans are an integral part of your brand identity and voice – and your mission statement should sound like it came from your company.
Next, think ahead to the future. What do you hope your brand exudes? What do you hope customers perceive about your company, from the way you conduct business and write about yourself? Be aspirational here. Write with a mindset of appealing to both the company/employee perspective and your customers.
When you have a solid list of words and phrases, start forming these ideas into solid sentences. Your mission statement can be as short or as long as you like, but most hover in the one-to-three-paragraphs range.
Choose your words and your tone carefully. Stay away from jargon, though it’s OK to integrate SEO keywords and phrases if you know you’ll use your mission statement copy as a tool for customers to discover you online.
Once you have something drafted, I encourage two things.
First, if you have the luxury, let it sit – for an hour or a day, even a week. This is an age-old trick of writers, and it really works. When you come back with fresh eyes, you spot ways to improve the copy.
Second, see to it that your mission statement isn’t created in a vacuum. Circulate the statement with stakeholders, from the C-level down, and really make sure the message resonates. Your goal is to get first impressions, input, and buy-in from across the organization. Be open-minded to insights you hadn’t considered. Based on my experience, the more versatile the range of input, the more effective the mission statement will be. After all, you want your mission statement to truly reflect your company’s persona and vision.
Is your mission statement ever “done”?
Crafting an eloquent and accurate mission statement takes time. Once you get the statement locked, you may be tempted to leave it “as is” through eternity. But companies – and missions – can evolve. It’s healthy to revisit your mission statement every year or two, to check in and make sure it still represents the current and future state of your company.
TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie shares a lot of insights in an article that appeared in Harvard Business Review in 2016. He reveals, for example, that he realized that as TOMS grew, it “veered away from its why.” I can’t help but wonder if the company’s leaders and employees failed to periodically go back to review and align to their stated mission. Interestingly enough, the TOMS website no longer has an explicit “Mission Statement” section. Now, the TOMS website features an entire section focusing on the company’s corporate responsibility, both foundations and practices.
Creating a mission statement – not just for your company, but for yourself
You can (and should) create a mission statement for your company. But let me offer one additional way to employ these tactics: You can also create a mission statement for yourself. This statement can be your set of guiding principles professionally, and likely personally as well. It will encompass the things you hold dear when making business decisions, choosing to take (or not) a new job, hiring on your team, etc.
A friend of mine, who is one of the most driven people I know, creates a personal mission statement at the beginning of each year. She thinks through the things she values and the things she wants to accomplish in both the short term and the long run, and then forms a statement. She always has this personal compass to align to when needed.
A mission statement may feel like a “nice to have” – but, as you can hopefully see, it is a valuable and essential tool. A well-crafted mission statement provides a clear statement of intent for your business. It’s the first impression, in many cases. And you know the adage – you never get a second chance…