SignPost - Photo by Benjamin EllisFollowing on from Part I and Part II – Vision, what is the mission statement?

The mission statement springs out of a clear vision statement. It plots the course towards the vision, describing the nature of what has to be done to get to there. It should address at least medium turn. A mission statement that only covers the next few months is more of a thumbnail plan than a mission.

The mission statement should address the what and the why, describing the purpose of the business or individual. An agreed mission statement is one of the key factors of success for businesses and non-profits (some research here, subscription/purchase required).

At an individual level, a mission statement is obviously not about focussing disparate teams, but it is about aligning the different roles that we serve in our daily lives. The fundamental questions are the same:

  • What is the problem that is address?
  • Why is that problem being addressed?
  • Who are the beneficiaries?
  • How do they benefit?

The answers may not be directly called out in the mission statement, but they are addressed. For example, one of my favourite mission statements is from Wal-Mart: “To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people.”

It appeals to me because it covers a lot of ground in just a few words. We can see who will benefit, and sense what the problem and benefit is. It may not be perfect, but it has served the company well.

A mission statement is not always this ‘pure’, in the sense that it may contain elements of the vision too. That isn’t specifically a problem, unless the mission statement becomes long and rambling.

A good mission statement is clear and memorable, it only needs to be a few sentences. Is effectiveness depends on it being lived and breathed. If the mission isn’t remembered, that it is not likely to happen.

Watch out for the ‘and’ trap in mission statements. If you are doing ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘the other’ are you really committed to them all? It is difficult to fight a battle on many fronts, as it divides resources and creates the risk of conflict. Is there something that needs to be dropped, or are all of these things part of a higher level purpose that should be stated instead?

There is one additional piece that should be covered in the mission statement, that was missing from the Walmart example… We’ll cover that in Part IV.

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