The Definitive Guide to Mission Statements: Why You Want One, How to Write Them, and How to Implement

Mission statements can be extremely powerful for your business or organization.

It can give purpose and meaning in all you do. It can be a rallying point for your employees. It can help you connect with your customers at higher levels.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many.

Too often, mission statements are written then forgotten. They are so wordy, thick with corporate-ese and feel-good words like “integrity”, etc., that no one reads them.

And, if someone does read them, their first response is “huh?”.

An effective mission statement isn’t just something that’s “nice to have”, it’s necessary. It can make an incredible impact on how to you do business, your employee engagement, and your bottom line.

If you want a mission statement that will actually have an impact, fret not, this article is for you.

In it, we discuss why mission statements are important, how we do them wrong, how to write them right, how to implement them into your organization, and some examples you can follow.

One quick note: what we discuss are generally good practices. However, it doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. You’ll find that some of our examples may not follow the guidelines exactly but may still be considered effective.

Let’s dive in.

 

Why a mission statement? What is its purpose?

Mission statements can be vitally important tor your business or organization. Here’s how:

Mission statements define what you do

Your mission statement defines what you do. It separates you from the crowd, from the competition. It makes you distinctive.

And, by defining who you are, it also defines what you are not.

The organization Invisible Children’s mission is “to end violence and exploitation facing our world’s most isolated and vulnerable communities.”

After reading that statement, you know who they are and what they do pretty well, as well as what they don’t.

Prezi: to reinvent how people share knowledge, tell stories, and inspire their audiences to act.

Do you see how those statements define what they do and what they don’t?

Question for you: Does your current mission statement define what you do? When people look at your statement, do they know? Do your employees?

 

Mission statements focus your energy and attention

Similarly, mission statements give you direction and focus. It lets you know what’s important and what’s not, what to do and what not to do.

It gives you guidelines on what to put your energy and attention to. Without, it’s easy to jump around to things that may be harmful or just not part of what you do.

For example, let’s go back to Prezi. Its mission is “to reinvent how people share knowledge, tell stories, and inspire their audiences to act.”

Now, would it make sense for them to start a gravel and paving side to their company? No! Of course not. It doesn’t align with their mission.

Too many companies have no guiding mission, so they jump from one thing to another and end up hurting themselves in the process.

 

Mission statements guide your decision making and provide consistency

Mission statements guide your decision making. It helps make your decisions easier.

If something doesn’t align with your mission – you don’t do it.

It also helps to provide consistency. Every decision, action, what you buy – all centers around the mission – for everyone.

 

Mission statements shape your strategy

Every goal, plan, action – it’s all shaped by your mission statement. Everything you do is centered around accomplishing your mission.

You aren’t meandering here and there jumping around from one direction to the next. If something doesn’t fit your mission, you don’t do it.

In other words, it sets the tone for your organization.

 

Mission statements unify and help destroy silos

An effective mission helps unify your employees, no matter the size of your organization. This department isn’t working on this mission while this one another– everyone has one central purpose – the mission.

Each department or team may have different goals, but all their goals and purposes are centered around one thing – the mission.

Silos are harder to build because you aren’t all working on your own thing, separate from everyone else. Instead, you are all one team, working together for one central mission.

 

Mission statements help shape company culture

Of course, many factors help define culture, but one piece of it is your mission. Mission statements help shape what your culture is and what it is not.

Nordstrom’s mission is “to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.”

If Nordstrum is truly about their mission, then that is going to affect who they hire, their training, their practices, and by it their culture.

 

Mission statements help you hire the right people

When hiring, your mission helps you hire the right people. If they don’t fit into your mission, if they aren’t passionate about it, if they won’t be a good fit in who you are and what you do – then you know not to hire them.

 

Mission statements improve confidence in the company (and increases productivity)

A Deloitte study found that 82% of employees who felt that their organization had a strong sense of purpose were confident that their company will grow compared to 48% whose company didn’t.

People feel confident in a company with purpose, with a mission. That drives engagement and productivity.

If you don’t believe in your company or that it will grow, you aren’t going to work as hard as if you believed in your company’s purpose and believed in its growth.

The study also found that 82% of those in purposeful companies were “optimistic about their organization’s future prospects and their ability to stay ahead of industry disruptions” compared to 42% of company’s without a strong purpose.

 

Mission statements create more engaged employees

The Deloitte study found that 73% of employees in purpose-driven companies were fully engaged compared to only 23% of companies that aren’t.

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That makes sense, as purpose drives passion. Without a central purpose, a driving mission for people to jump on, they are more likely to be disengaged.

 

Mission statements help build culture and trust

The Deloitte study found that 78% of employees in purpose-driven companies trusted in their company’s culture and beliefs compared to 32%  of companies that aren’t.

When a company that is top-down passionately pursuing a mission, it creates trust within that company. Transparency, truth, communication – all of those are aspects of great culture and trust – but without purpose, you are hurting yourself.

 

Mission statements improve your ability to hire top talent

Younger generations want more than just a company to work for; they want a company that has purpose and does good.

When you have a powerful mission, that can help attract workers.

But, more than that, when you have engaged employees passionately pursuing a mission in a great culture, that’s attractive to talent as well.

 

Mission statements guide you in where to spend resources

Without a mission statement, an effective mission, it’s easy to throw money and resources anywhere and everywhere.

But, when you have an effective one, it guides you on how to spend your resources. You are less wasteful and can focus on where it has the greatest impact.

 

Mission statements help you and employees prioritize and improve productivity

Without a mission, people can be working on different projects, going in different directions.

With a mission, everyone has a guide to what’s important and what’s not. It makes employees more productive because they spend more time on what’s important.

And, as we said earlier, when they are on mission, they are more engaged, which makes them more productive that way as well.

 

How we do mission statements wrong

Now that we covered why mission statements are important, let’s look at how we often get them wrong.

 

We make it long and wordy

One of the common, biggest mistakes that people make with mission statements is that they make it too long. They think the bigger, the better.

It’s actually the opposite. The shorter, the better. Long mission statements don’t inspire or motivate. They are more likely to be confusing and less likely to be read.

 

We fill it with corporate-ese and technical jargon

For some reason, many think that we must make it sound a certain way for it to be right. We feel that if we make it sound “smart”, it makes us look smart.

Again, that’s wrong. The best writing is the clearest. The best mission statement is one that people can look at and get instantly.

Putting corporate talk and jargon in it makes it hard to understand and less likely to be read and remembered.

People don’t like to think. If you have to make them think to figure out your mission statement, you’ve lost.

Also, writing in corporate-ese and technical jargon makes you look like you don’t know how to write well, not smart.

 

We talk about the how

One danger with mission statements is when we start talking about the how of what we are doing instead of what we want to do and accomplish.

Why is that bad?

Because, when you do that, you limit yourself. If you say, “we are going to do X by Y, Z, and A”, you are limiting your options of accomplishing X.

You may find a better way. There may be something else you can do. But you limit yourself when you put it in your mission.

Also, generally, your mission is long-term. It’s a long-term mission and goal (though it can change as needed).

However, the how is often more short-term. Especially in today’s world and technology, the how for today isn’t the how for tomorrow. It changes.

Don’t get stuck in something because you want to put the how’s with the what.

 

We talk about us (in the wrong way)

Some companies make the mission statement all about them – “we are people of integrity and charity and awesomeness and friendliness and…”.

They put all these cliché words and statements that really don’t mean much and then don’t define what they do. Or if they add it, they make it really long.

Integrity etc. is great – for your values. But, generally, keep that separate from your mission.

 

We make it unclear

Because of the length or jargon or trying to put too much in it (complicating it), we make the mission unclear.

When it’s unclear, people don’t follow it or read it.

When it’s unclear, it doesn’t mean anything.

When you show others your mission, do they instantly know what you are trying to do or do they have to sit and think about it?

 

We never communicate it

One of the biggest reasons mission statements are ineffective is that they are never (or rarely) communicated.

At most, they are given lip-service.

This could be for several reasons:

  • It’s long, full of jargon and corporate-ese, and unclear
  • It’s a nice paragraph written to make investors or others happy but means nothing to anyone
  • The leaders don’t believe in it
  • Times have changed but no one has thought about revisiting the mission
  • Leaders don’t realize the importance of a powerful mission

Whatever the reason, it needs to be fixed and communicated persistently.

 

Guidelines for writing a mission statement

Now that we have looked at some of the ways we write them wrong, let’s look at the opposite – how we write them right. Then, in the next section, we’ll discuss steps you can take to implement the mission in your organization.

 

Make it simple and clear

This is one of the best steps you can take to write a good mission statement – make it simple.

Again, too often we complicate. We think bigger is better. We want to put everything in it. We think it looks better or makes us look smart adding big words.

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Whatever it is, too often mission statements become long and unclear – and then they aren’t used.

Keep it simple.

What is the overarching mission for your company?

Try to keep it to one sentence (and don’t make it a long run-on sentence). Clarity is key.

You can use more than one sentence if needed, but the longer it is, the more complicated it gets, the less memorable it is, and the fewer people will “get it” and read it.

What about giant companies?

Generally, even in big companies, you have one, giant overarching mission for the company. Depending on your company, different divisions may have their own separate mission, but, generally, they all should point back to the main mission of the company.

Here are some examples of simple, clear mission statements:

  • Life is Good: “to spread the power of optimism.”
  • Google: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  • Kickstarter: “to help bring creative projects to life.”
  • Microsoft: “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

 

Make it about intentions, not your product

It can be easy to say, “we sell X product”. Don’t do that. It’s not about your product, but what your product accomplishes.

It’s like when you are trying to sell a product, you don’t sell the features, you sell the benefits. You sell how it affects and better’s people’s lives.

And who knows, maybe you may want to sell another product later that’s different.

But, if you sell the intention of your product, making people’s or businesses’ lives better or easier, etc., then it means more than just making money and you can expand your product line into anything that helps you accomplish that mission.

Take TED, for example. Their mission is “Spread ideas”.

Notice they don’t mention a method or product or anything of that nature. They mention their purpose, their intention – to spread ideas.

Same with Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

 

Limit the number of items in your mission

Don’t fill it with 100 goals or missions or how you want to treat customers and everyone. Those are nice things, but they don’t belong in your mission.

What is the overarching mission of your company? It may have multiple parts, and that is fine, but the shorter you make the statement, the easier it is to read, the more memorable and inspirational it is, and the more likely it will be remembered and implemented.

Caterpillar’s mission has a couple of parts, but it’s still rather to the point: To enable economic growth through infrastructure and energy development, and to provide solutions that support communities and protect the planet.”

 

Only use enough words to say what’s needed, then try and cut again

I remember a quote that said something to the nature of “I would have written a shorter letter,  but I didn’t have the time”.

What does that mean?

Writing concisely is hard. It takes time. It’s easy to write a long letter. It takes more effort to write a clear, concise, short letter.

With your mission statement, take the time to review it. How can it be reworded? How can you shorten it? Can you replace multiple words with one better one?

sweetgreen: To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.

 

Make it easy to say, memorize, and understand

Remember, the goal of your mission statement is for it to actually be used. As we discussed before, one of the best ways to do that is to keep it simple.

Make it easy to say, to understand, and for people to memorize it.

Make it easy to say and repeat at meetings and wherever you go.

Make it easy for people to memorize it, post it, and make it a part of all they do.

If it’s long, complicated, wordy – if people have to think – that won’t happen. Make it easy.

Let’s repeat the mission statement from sweetgreen:  To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.

That statement is short, simple, memorable, easy to memorize, and easy to inspire (especially if you are a person who is about eating healthy and helping others do the same).  Do you see how this also helps you with hiring and inspiring employees?

 

Implementing your mission statement

Now that we covered how to write your mission statement, let’s talk about how to implement it.

 

It needs to permeate from the top down

Leadership must believe in it and act on it.

If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how many programs, kickoffs, or whatever you have. If leadership isn’t on board, others won’t be either.

The pursuit and implementation of the mission must be from the top down.

 

Communicate it frequently and make it part of everyday culture

Your mission should be communicated frequently

In meetings, town-halls, and so on, it should be emphasized and repeated.

In training and recruitment materials, make sure that the mission is displayed prominently.

In internal documents, having the mission on many of those as well can be beneficial.

Your mission needs to be repeated over and over and become part of your everyday culture.

 

Reward people based on mission

You likely have heard the saying that you get what you measure.

If you want people to focus on the mission (and the goals you have toward your mission), base rewards on when people do that.

Whether praise, a physical award, or a bonus, rewarding the behavior you want can help you get more of that behavior.

 

Showcase people who exemplify the mission

Showcase people who exemplify the mission. When someone does something toward it well, when they are exemplifying the behavior you want, don’t just reward them, but consider showcasing them as an example.

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It could be a hall of fame, something written in your newsletter, a video, or called out praise in a meeting.

This encourages other people to model that behavior.

 

Make decisions based on the mission

Your mission is your guide. All of your decisions should be based on the mission. If a decision moves you away from your mission, then don’t do it!

Having an effective mission statement can make a lot of your decision making easier.

 

Everything you do goes toward the mission

Similarly, all of your activity, your tasks, and the money you spend should go toward fulfilling the mission. If it doesn’t, then you need to revisit the task (or the mission, which we will discuss later).

 

Make your goals based on your mission

We’ve focused a lot on mission statements in this article (and that makes sense since that is what this article is about); however, goals are an important part of your business as well.

Your mission statement is what you want to accomplish. Your goals help you get there. They are steps you take to accomplish your mission.

If your goal doesn’t move you toward your mission, you need a new goal. Make sure all your goals move you toward your mission.

 

Make it clear to others how their jobs and tasks apply to the mission

Similarly, you need to help others see how their jobs help move the company toward the mission. How do the tasks they do, especially ones that seem pointless initially, help move the dial?

By helping people see how what they do applies, it helps not only remind people of the mission, but it also helps them be more motivated and engaged.

 

Practice what you preach

This is repeating one of the other ones, but it’s important. If you want people to be passionate and pursue the mission, you must do it.

It starts at the top. You must practice what you preach.

 

Empower your employees

This applies beyond a mission statement to helping your employees be effective and productive.

If you want your employees to act toward your mission, empower them to do so.

Too often bureaucracy and its paperwork and permissions from this and that hinders momentum. If you have no trust in your employees to act toward it without getting permission, don’t expect your employees to passionately pursue your mission (or to be highly engaged period).

 

You get what you tolerate

This is another topic that goes way beyond mission statements.

Keep in mind that you get what you tolerate. If you tolerate gossip, you will get it. If you tolerate divisions and silos, you will get it.

If you tolerate people doing their own thing opposite the mission, you will get that as well.

 

If the mission is not being followed (or is forgotten or unknown)

If you find that your activities are not matching up to your mission or that it’s starting to be overlooked, it could be a couple of things.

First, it could be that it’s the wrong mission. Whether it was initially wrong or times have changed and you need to tweak it, if you aren’t pursuing it, you may want to look at revising it.

Second, it may just not be part of the culture yet. Maybe it wasn’t implemented well. Maybe leadership is not modeling it. Maybe it’s not being rewarded.

Find out the reason why then take action based on the reason.

 

 

Examples of great mission statements

Before we go, let’s look at some samples of good mission statements.

 

Donald Trump

Whether you like or dislike him or agree or disagree is irrelevant in this discussion. What is important is the effectiveness of his mission statement:

Make America Great Again

It’s short, sweet, simple, memorable and resonated with many people.

Barack Obama’s could be considered powerful as well: Change you can believe in.

 

Invisible Children:

To end violence and exploitation facing our world’s most isolated and vulnerable communities.

It’s one sentence and clearly defines what their purpose is.

 

Tesla:

To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.

 

Cradles to Crayons

Provides children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play.

 

Honest Tea:

To create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages.   

 

sweetgreen

To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.

 

Betterment

We have one mission: To empower you to make the most of your money, so you can live better.

 

 Feeding America

Our mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.

 

Red Cross

The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

 

Starbucks

To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

 

LinkedIn

The mission of LinkedIn is simple: connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.

 

Conclusion

Mission statements, if done right, are incredibly powerful. They can give a unifying purpose to your organization, motivate and engage employees, and guide your decision making.

I challenge you and your leadership to examine your mission statement today. Is it effective? Is it part of your everyday work? Can your employees tell you what it is? Can you?

Take the time to examine it honestly. If it’s not what it needs to be, take the steps now to fix it.

The reward is worth it.

Now to you: How effective is your current mission statement? What are your next steps? Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

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