About Mission Statements

Years back when I taught strategic planning, I had this debate with one of my consulting colleagues. He was adamant that a mission statement should be brief so that it could be committed to memory and therefore engrained in someone’s mind. He felt the same way about vision statements, though he felt they could be somewhat longer.

My position was, and still is, that mission and vision statements should fit your organization, its culture, and if that can be done in a dozen words, great! But if it takes more than that, so be it. After all, the value of a mission statement should not be if it fits on a t-shirt, but rather if it is compelling enough to motivate both employees and customers/clients.

This implies that there are some criteria that a mission statement should meet or at the very least a series of questions to be asked as you craft or review a mission statement. Here is a list of criteria we have developed for your consideration, phrased as questions – in no particular order:

1. Does the mission statement clearly identify the core purpose of your organization?
2. Is it easy to understand (not mired in jargon)?
3. Is the mission statement measurable or at least written in such a way that allows you to create measures to assess your performance against it?
4. Is the mission statement sufficiently clear about the “industry” you work in, your position in the competitive environment, and does it differentiate you in that environment (i.e. your niche)?
5. Does the mission statement reflect the values of your organization?
6. Does the mission statement adequately articulate the difference your organization makes in the lives of its people and the community?
7. Does the mission statement inspire you and your colleagues and constituents?
8. Does the mission statement lend itself as the key resource to the development of a vision, strategies, and actions?
9. Has the development of your mission sufficiently engaged your clients, customers, partners, suppliers, and so forth?
10. Does your mission statement define the geographic area(s) you do business in?
11. Does your mission statement help you stand out in the crowd?

I am sure you can identify some more and of course your organization may give more weight to some than others because of who you are, your culture, and the nature of your work. The key message here is that mission development should be based on a set of criteria in order to help you craft one that has staying power.

Here are some sample mission statements (source: about.com). When you read them, think about whether or not they work for you. Do they meet the criteria above or other criteria you have. Pick the one you like best and ask yourself why. Which one do you like the least and why? Your reactions to the ones below may help you in your own mission development.

IBM: Our goal is simply stated. We want to be the best service organization in the world.

Federal Express: FedEx is committed to our People-Service-Profit Philosophy. We will produce outstanding financial returns by providing totally reliable, competitively superior, global, air-ground transportation of high-priority goods and documents that require rapid, time-certain delivery

Wal-Mart: To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people

Saturn: Our mission is to earn the loyalty of Saturn owners and grow our family by developing and marketing U.S.-manufactured vehicles that are world leaders in quality, cost, and customer enthusiasm through the integration of people, technology, and business systems.

Westin Hotels and Resorts: In order to realize our Vision, our Mission must be to exceed the expectations of our customers, whom we define as guests, partners, and fellow employees.(mission). We will accomplish this by committing to our shared values and by achieving the highest levels of customer satisfaction, with extraordinary emphasis on the creation of value. In this way we will ensure that our profit, quality and growth goals are met.

NEXT: We will write about vision statement, strategy development, and more in future postings.


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