Back in the late 1980’s when I co-founded my first company there was a trend that companies not only had “missions”, they also had “visions.”
I still remember the vision and mission of Microsoft!
Vision: There will be a PC on every desk and in every home
Mission: To have Microsoft software running on every one of those PCs
Those were great until mobile arrived and perhaps that mission was even a contributor to Microsoft missing out on the move to mobile and smartphones.
So at the suggestion of our CFO, George Pilla, we created both a vision and a mission for Course Technology, Inc., an educational publishing company. It’s been 27 years since then, so my memory of both is rather foggy, but the vision was something like:
Technology will have a major beneficial impact on higher education.
Our mission was something like:
To publish technology-based products that help teachers teach and students learn more effectively.
I’ve found the idea of vision has gone away, but startups – both for-profit and especially NPOs – are still fixated on having a mission. I have no problems with missions, but I have one simple test: you should be able to call and wake up anyone in your company at 3 a.m. and ask them to recite the mission. If they can’t do it – usually because it’s too long and complicated – go back to the whiteboard. When I joined Thomson, now Thomson Reuters, their mission went on for pages. I doubt anyone could even recite the first paragraph.
I have a formula that I like to see in mission statements:
The mission of ABC Corp. is to help [your customers] to achieve [solve the problem or seize the opportunity your company was created for in the first place.] by [providing whatever distinguishes your product or service.]
I see to many mission statements that are missing people altogether! These inward-facing mission statements are going to inhibit the company from developing its customer base.
So what good does having a mission do? It can be the first step in creating the corporate culture and help define the company to stakeholders: staff, Board, advisors, partners, etc. It may well be necessary, but it’s far from sufficient. More about corporate culture in another post.