Oct
11

PLEASE, Not Another Mission Statement Exercise!

“Welcome everyone!” said the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, high-energy, strategic planning consultant. “Today we’re going to do something together that will engage everyone in the room and be ground-breaking for the organization.”

She paused, maximizing the moment. She had everyone’s attention. Just before everyone’s attention waned, she said, “We are going to write a new mission statement!”

Thud! Boom! The energy level in the room plummeted followed by a loud, collective groan.

“Not again,” said one influential Board member in a not-so-quiet stage whisper.

“Kill me now,” said another.

“We just went through this last year—and the year before!” another Board member said.

Some of the other verbal responses were less delicate (read: saltier). One key person even got up and left the room. Forever.

If you’ve never been to a meeting where the mission statement was revisited, reimagined, realigned, re-whatever-ed, then count yourself among the lucky. I once sat in a consultant-facilitated meeting for four hours while the group argued over changing one adjective in the mission statement, and it was still an incoherent mess in the end.

Why is it that consultants like to revisit the mission statement so much? Is it because it’s so critical or because it’s an easy target? Or is it a no-brainer? Does it take little or no preparation?

Yes, yes and yes. And the most likely reason? It takes up the time for which the consultant is getting paid!

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was no such thing in nonprofit organizations as a vision, a mission statement or a strategic plan. Most nonprofits didn’t even have goals, much less measurable ones. Those organizations got a lot done, but targeted efficiency and proven effectiveness were not among them.

Mission statements do have a purpose, of course, and a vital one. The late Steven Covey said:

“A mission statement is not something you write overnight… But fundamentally, your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”

If your mission statement does not do all of those things, then it’s time to revisit it. However, if you are rewriting it every other year, something is amiss.

The mission statement has a purpose (and quite a lot of it according to Covey.) So why do people hate sitting through the creation of one so much? I’ll tell you: too many mission statements are too full of gobbledygook to be useful. Some mission statements sound like they are trying to sound like a mission statement. And let’s face it, when they wrote the darn thing, they probably were.

So how do you make a mission statement that leads to something like what Covey proposes? You have to make it specific, succinct, and straightforward.

Specific: A mission statement needs to communicate what you are trying to do. When a person finishes reading it, they should know why you are in business. I like Google’s mission statement:

“To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful.”

Succinct: A mission statement needs to be specific, yes, but it but doesn’t need to be all-inclusive. In other words, tell them what you are going to cook but leave out the ingredient list. Here is a great example from Amazon:

“To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Straightforward: When it comes to mission statements, you should never need to use a dictionary app to figure out what it’s trying to say. The best mission statements use simple language, accessible to anyone that reads. An exceptional example of this isVirgin Atlantic’s Mission Statement:

“To grow a profitable airline, where people love to fly and people love to work.”

If you want more examples of unique mission statements, take a look at this handy article on specimentemplates.org.

Having a strategic, well-thought-out mission is critical. Communicating it with specific, succinct and straightforward language, however, is essential. Otherwise, you might have a statement, but it’s unlikely to get any mission accomplished.

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