I’ve written previously about vision and mission statements. Today’s post will focus on mission statements with thanks to John Boitnott, author of the excellent article How to Write An Unforgettable Company Mission Statement, subtitled It’s your best and earliest shot at telling employees and the world what you’re about.
What is a mission statement? Very simply it is a statement of purpose for your venture. I discussed this last night in my final presentation to the group of post-docs I’ve been mentoring for the summer. Your venture needs to have a reason to exist. It’s important that you convey this mission clearly and concisely to inform all the stakeholders in your venture: other partners, staff, investors, vendors, the press, analysts, et al. Mission statements help create alignment, a critical success factor for startups. As I’ve previously written:
My vision for Mentorphile is that virtually everyone may need to become an entrepreneur, as the future of work is changing dramatically from globalization and automation. My mission is to help founders succeed by sharing what I have learned from my experience both founding startups and mentoring dozens of founders.
I like to see mission statements of the form “We help X accomplish Y [by doing Z]” Who you help are your customers, how you help them is your product or service. Here are the four criteria John Boitnott lists for a mission statement, with my annotations:
- It should be inspirational. It’s the founder’s job to inspire his team and all other stakeholders in their venture. Your mission statement should fill all who read it with the urge to follow your venture, wherever it leads.
- It should be succinct. My rule of thumb for mission (and vision) statements is that you should be able to wake up any staff member in the middle of the night, ask them what the company’s mission is and have 100% recite the answer correctly (then go back to sleep!) The long and complex mission statements often seen with large, legacy corporations fail this test every time.
- It should be timeless. The lifetime of a company’s mission statement should be measured in years, not months. Bill Gates’ original mission statement was to put Microsoft software on every PC in every home and business. Note that he missed mobile! Microsoft’s mission is far more generic these days: “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
- It should reflect the company’s values and purpose. See my post Values: the bedrock of startups. Document your venture’s values before you tackle your mission statement.
So how do you go about crafting a compelling mission statement. I’ll follow Mr. Boitnott’s list with my own comments.
- Address your key stakeholders. See the list above. Note: this should be true of all your marketing communications.
- State your purpose. Why does your business exist? Why did you start it? If your answer is “To make a lot of money” go back and try again. I like Tesla’s mission statement: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” That covers both its cars and solar panel businesses.
- Use specific, simple language. Again, this is true of all communications, not just mission statements. No business nor technical jargon allowed!
- Infuse it with spirit. This is a tough one. But I like this quote from the article:
Try to infuse a bit of that can-do human spirit and energy, and don’t be shy about making bold declarations. One of the best ways to motivate a team is to set a lofty yet attainable goal, then declare it out loud.
5. Don’t needle your statement to death. I don’t agree with this one. Crafting a mission statement that hits the above criteria is hard work. Keep at it. And don’t involve a committee; that’s how you get those long, unwieldy mission statements from legacy corporations.
Before you launch your mission statement make sure you test it out with people who know the company, but weren’t involved in drafting the mission statement. Note that mission statements are completely different from taglines, which are often cute and catchy, but have short shelf lives and are subject to frequent change.
Start out by Googling the mission statement of companies you admire. For example, here’s Apple’s: To bring the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and service.