A mission statement is the battle cry of an organization. It is a sentence or set of sentences that state the firm’s organizing idea—its reason for being. With a mission statement, the founders, the management, and the employees declare, “this is why we are in business”, and “this is why we fight”. The mission statement infuses an organization with purpose and clarity and empowers employees to attack the problems and opportunities necessary to achieve the firm’s goals. What is the purpose of your business? What is the battle cry that you want to send your employees out to battle with, empowering them with a clear purpose? Why are you here and why should your employees care? A mission statement is not merely a bland statement of what the business does. It is an attempt by the founders to achieve buy-in from the employees and state to the world why they exist in ways that enthuse the people within the firm, earn the admiration of potential employees, and burnish the business’ brand. In asking these questions, another question then arises: how does the typical business owner craft a mission statement that will encapsulate what the business is about and empower employees? In this article, we will look at various, exemplary mission statements to fire up your imaginations and get you thinking and then, breakdown the tasks that must be accomplished to craft an impactful mission statement that will empower employees. Whether you are a startup founder or the owner of an old business, you need to consider the importance of clarifying your mission and the huge impact that would have on achieving buy-in from your employees so they feel tied to the destiny of the company and are empowered to fight for its goals. Without further ado, let’s look at mission statements in more detail!
Examples of Exemplary Mission Statements
- Alphabet: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- IKEA: “Offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
- Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
- Facebook: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
- Verizon: “We deliver the promise of the digital world to our customers. We make their innovative lifestyles possible. We do it all through the most reliable network and the latest technology.”
- Southwest Airlines: “Dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.”
- Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
The mission statements above are the organizing ideas of some of the greatest companies in the world and as such, they influence the decision-making, behavior, and strategic direction of the company. Every decision an employee makes is grounded in the principles laid bare in the mission statement. Through achieving clarity in the mission statement, the employees are freed to work without confusion. Read on to learn how to write an effective mission statement,
1. Ask the Four Questions
According to Patrick Hull, four important questions go into the writing of a mission statement:((Forbes: 4 Questions to Get a Great Mission Statement))
- What is the purpose of the company?
- How do we do it?
- Whom do we do it for?
- What value are we bringing?
Research by Professor Chris Bart of McMaster University dovetails with this and indicates that a mission statement has to include three essential components: the target audience, the product or service offered, and the distinction or competitive advantage the company has over rivals.((Science Direct: Sex, lies and mission statements)) Bart’s research also suggests that only about 10% of mission statements say something meaningful. It is essential to be clear on the three keys otherwise your mission statement is hot air.
2. State How the Business Empowers Its Employees
Without employee buy-in, it is very difficult to achieve the goals of the business. It is for this reason that the companies people most want to work for are some of the most successful businesses in the world.((CNBC: The 10 companies millennials most want to work for all have one crucial thing in common)) Creating the right corporate culture—a culture that rewards employees, inspires them, and defines clearly why they are there, to begin with—is important. And it begins with the mission statement. It is important to not simply state why your business is good for its employees but also say how, and then work to achieve that. This encompasses questions of diversity, creative freedom, continuing education, fairness, and empowerment. Every business will claim that it is good for its employees, so you need to stand out from the crowd because you are competing in the market for employees. You may feel that you have to say the obvious, bookmark ideas, and remind people of values, even if shared across the business community. But you have to find a differentiator. As you may have noticed from the above examples, many mission statements are customer-facing and rather ignore the employees. I suggest bucking the trend. A good example of this is American Express’ mission statement, which reads:
“We have a mission to be the world’s most respected service brand. To do this, we have established a culture that supports our team members, so they can provide exceptional service to our customers.”
3. Be Candid
We have all read those mind-numbingly boring examples of corporate-ease—those pieces of corporate literature that seem to be nothing but a smorgasbord of buzzwords. Though jargon has its places in providing a shared language to transmit ideas, the mission statement is the one place that demands a more colloquial approach. Richard Branson, in discussing how to craft a mission statement, insists that it should be clear and contain no unnecessary jargon.((Entrepreneur: Richard Branson on Crafting Your Mission)) He discussed Yahoo’s mission statement with this idea in mind and suggested that though it was interesting, it was too dense to be understood by most people and therefore, was meaningless and useless. A good example of clarity, and simplicity is Alphabet’s (the parent company of Google) mission statement: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Research shows that there is a direct link between future shareholder returns and the candor of corporate language.((Forbes: How To Find Disruptive, Wealth-Creating Companies)) The more candid a business’ language, the more trust it earns from shareholders, and the greater future performance. The logic can be extended to the relationship between employees and owners: establish trust with candor and thereby earn the devotion of your employees and excess effort. This means stripping away jargon to be as clear and candid as possible about what you are offering your employees. You can only earn the trust and sacrifice of your employees with candor.
Tesla’s mission statement is a good example of this, not simply because of what it says but what it omits. The company commits to clean energy and advancing technologies, such as the batteries it is famous for as well as its electric vehicles. An employee at Tesla is charged with the mission of fighting the good fight for sustainable energy. Interestingly, Tesla is a car manufacturer. But the mission statement says nothing about cars—anyone can make cars. Tesla zeroes in on something bigger than cars, and without saying so, links Tesla to broader struggles against climate change. Whether you like Tesla or not, Tesla indeed has a fervent base of admirers and this brand strength starts with things like the mission statement.
5. Balance Realism With Optimism
One criticism of mission statements is that they often are too optimistic and unrealistic. Business is about working for ideals through reality. Take Southwestern’s mission statement, which offers realism in the first part: “Dedication to the highest quality of customer service”—and balances it out with idealism—”delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit”—to create a powerful mission statement. Realism alone is dull and uninspiring, and idealism and optimism on its own can seem like a reach. But together, they make a mission statement powerful. In thinking about how you will empower your employees, balance realism and optimism.
6. Think Strategically
As the organizing idea of the business, a mission statement should endure. Think long-term—think strategically. Every decision and every action taken by and within the company flows from the mission statement. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that you frame a mission statement within the context of the long-term so that it does not constrain or narrow the scope of the business.
7. Seek Employee Input
A lot of this discussion has been top-down. But the most important thing you can do as an employer is to ask your employees for. This will not only tell you what they want to achieve within the company and what they want from the company, but it will also help establish a corporate culture that empowers employees by constantly communicating with them and seeking their buy-in in developing the business. This will help them stay focused even when they’re working from home. It makes little sense to have a top-down approach in establishing the corporate culture and then wondering why employees do not feel empowered. Toyota is perhaps the best example in the world of the benefits of creating a corporate culture that embraces employee input. Indeed, the “Toyota Way” may be the most integrated corporate culture in the world and seeks employee input down to the lowliest shop floor employee. Seeking employee input cannot be overly emphasized.
We have seen examples of great mission statements of some of the world’s leading businesses. Along the way, we have established the importance of asking the “four questions”, stating how the business empowers its employees, being candid, inspiring, balancing realism with optimism, thinking strategically, and seeking employee input. It is important to see the mission statement as the organizing idea of the company and not just something to chuck into a business plan. From the mission statement, you establish the corporate culture of the company and the conditions that will allow your employees to be and feel empowered. It is vital to take the mission statement both seriously and enthusiastically. The benefits are a devoted and enthusiastic workforce as well as a stronger brand and a corporate culture that will fuel future returns.