The Enigma of the Ideal Mission Statement

At a leadership luncheon a couple of years ago, featured speaker Bg. General Jeff Foley (retired) asked for a show of hands from everyone who had ever written a personal mission statement. Sadly, I had not ever created one, but as I jealously admired the few audience members with raised hands, something clicked in my brain. How could I travel on a path of future success without some guidepost informing my decisions? I set to work creating one, and immediately posted the results on my LinkedIn page.
Soon after this luncheon, I would have the tremendous fortune of working with Jeff Foley as he guided Leadership Augusta in the revision of our mission, vision, values and goals. He explained how an accurate mission statement could bring focus to an organization. As a result of this experience, I now cannot imagine any leader wanting to have a positive sustainable impact without going through this process.
This is why I was intrigued to hear that Kevin’s boss asked his team to be thinking about ideas for a mission statement. After 16 years in the car business, I can tell you that a mission statement is not something you hear about very often in a dealership. (I’ve had 2 mission statement conversations in my automotive career, and I brought it up one of those times).  It shows that Andy is thinking big picture, and realizes that the first step in building or improving team culture is with a vision and mission statement. I also like that he is asking the team for input, and not just top management. The pursuit of the ideal mission statement is inherently a team dialogue.
Out of curiosity, I googled sample mission statements in the car business, and they were truly difficult to find. The ones I found were pretty tame. So I broadened the search to other industries and started to get a sense of which companies took their mission-creation job more seriously. It didn’t take me long to develop a “Mission Statement Advice” list. Maybe Kevin’s team can take it into consideration as they begin their journey into finding the ever-mysterious, ever-challenging perfect mission statement.
1. Beware the temptation to jam in too many words. If it’s so long to read that I feel compelled to skim (or skip), then it’s likely not going to be inspiring to employees. Keep it concise. Also, please avoid too much “mission-ese” language. Mission-ese is verbiage that would never escape someone’s lips in an actual conversation (with a straight face). I mean, really, who talks like this:

We are a performance driven culture that uses metrics to ensure continuous improvement. Through our distribution and marketing competencies, we provide creative, customized, solutions for our customers.

2. I’m not crazy about any mission statement that uses the word “best”. Best -according to whom?  It’s a weak, uninspired word. I’m also passionately opposed to inclusion of the word “shareholder”. If you mention shareholders, profit, or return on investment in your mission statement, I immediately know your priorities are skewed. If you make decisions based on numbers, you fail to build the true foundation to long-term success: brand and culture. Smart choices for sustainable processes revolve around customers, employees and community. The profits come automatically if you’re doing a good job with your brand. Like the old adage, “fix the store, not the score”, or the athletes who ignore the stats while they focus on building their strengths, the conversation should always be people-oriented and not numbers-based.
3. I like a mission statement which isn’t limiting, because industries evolve over generations, and we can’t all say for certain that our core activities will remain just as they are from decade to decade. The mission should therefore be larger than the organization’s activities right now, but still relevant to what your big-picture objective is. In other words, I want to see that you are open to what your company may evolve into one day, but I also want to see at least a clue of what industry you are in. In my examples below, Microsoft’s is probably the most vague, but I’ll give them a pass because who knows what will come of their industry in the coming years. Still, it seems like the words innovation or technology should be worked in there somewhere.
So here are a few that I liked:
To discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.
Bristol Myers Squib not only used alliteration, but also threw in the word “prevail”. What an awesome word. I definitely want to prevail over my serious diseases.
At the heart of The Chevron Way is our Vision to be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnership and performance.
Chevron, too, has opted for alliteration. I am keen on the word admired. Definitely better than the hundred organizations which claimed they were striving to be “the best”. Chevron knows if they are most admired, they likely are the best.

Use our pioneering spirit to responsibly deliver energy to the world.

ConocoPhillips nailed a concise mission statement by strategically including a couple of very important words: pioneering and responsible. If I worked for this company, I would have a sense of not only what I needed to do, but how. They show us that if you get your key words down, a short mission statement can hit the message home.
At Microsoft, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible.
This tells me a few important things: the audience is global, individual and companies, and demonstrating partnerships for the success of others.
Nike: To Bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Nike hit a home run here, and their strong brand is a testament that they live by their mission statement. Read more about this in the book, “What Great Brands Do”, by Denise Yohn.
So that’s my advice for Kevin’s team if they decide to pursue the ever-elusive perfect mission statement. Keep it simple, visionary, concise and pick words that paint a clear picture of what employees should be striving for every day. I applaud anyone who tackles this challenging undertaking, as long they aspire to be something grander than “the best”.

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