How to Write a Mission Statement

I spent a good portion of last weekend doing some research on vision and mission statements. The difference had never been very clear to me, but somehow I had always thought of them as crucial exercises for companies and individuals who want to be successful.

What I learned is that the “mission” is rooted in the present, or the day to day, while the “vision” is anchored in the future.

A mission statement explains what is a company’s purpose or “claim to fame”. A vision statement, on the other hand, articulates a preferred version of the future: where a company wants to get as a consequence of following its mission.

Most companies keep their vision to themselves but are usually pretty open with their mission statements. Therefore, I started going through the mission statements of Fortune 500 companies and noticed that while some companies are very good at developing mission statements, most do a terrible job.

Bad Mission Statements

I found bad mission statements to have one or more of the following characteristics:

Stating the obvious

“Our mission is to earn the trust and loyalty of our customers, business partners, and neighborhoods every day”, or “We provide outstanding products and unsurpassed service that, together, deliver premium value to our customers”.

Speaking in corporate cliches

“We do business each day with absolute integrity, honesty and passion, partnering as a team to meet our consumers’ needs”.

Try to appear politically correct

“We are committed to truly making a difference through the preservation of the earth’s resources and the betterment of our communities” (you would never guess that this company sells office supplies).

Internally-focused (or shareholder-focused) instead of customer-focused

“To maximize shareholder value by enhancing financial performance and providing long-term profitable growth.”

All of the above are actual mission statements of Fortune 500 companies.

Good Mission Statements

On the other hand, I found that good mission statements are usually:

1. Short and memorable
2. Very specific (no generalities)
3. Expressed in simple language (no cliches or corporate speak)
4. Customer-focused
5. Easily understood by employees and customers alike

These are some examples of good mission statements (with the company name in parenthesis):

  • “We will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use”. (CVS)
  • “We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling”. (Harley Davidson)
  • “We help people save money so they can live better”. (Walmart)
  • “We bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. (Nike)
  • “To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” (Amazon)
  • “To provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.” (Ebay)
  • “Our Goal is to provide the best claim service in the industry”. (Auto-Owners Insurance)

A good mission statement sets clear expectations for customers, focuses employees and provides a yardstick against which to measure the soundness of a business strategy.

Personal Mission Statements

A personal mission statement helps you make sure that the jobs and projects you take match your skills, interests, goals and values. A carefully crafted mission statement can help you avoid costly career mistakes.

To make your mission statement compelling don’t just ask yourself the usual questions: what do I do, for whom and what is the benefit?

Think bigger.

Ask yourself: what is my way of improving the world I live in? What is my platform? What is my message to the world? That is likely to produce a more powerful mission statement that you can embrace and feel excited about.

I’ve crafted my mission statement to be: “To empower business professionals through personal branding, so that they can live happy, successful lives”.

In the future, I may change it and refine it a little bit. For example, I could chose to focus on business professionals from a particular industry, or on a more specific aspect of a successful life, like improving work-life balance.

As for the “vision thing”, it is slightly more complicated and I haven’t figured it out completely yet, but it might be something along the lines of making a positive impact in the lives of every person I meet.

So, to wrap it up, here are my own, simple definitions of “mission” and “vision”:

Mission is what you do best every day. Vision is what gets you out of bed every day.

What’s your take?

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