Developing a mission statement is a lengthy process that involves the input of team members who fully understand your business, employees, customers, industry, and the products and services your company provides.
Once completed, your organization can share its mission statement so consumers, employees, investors and other stakeholders know precisely what your organization does (or doesn’t do), what it values and why it exists. Often a mission statement can help clarify an owner’s ideas about their business’s “whats” and “whys.”
We’ll explore mission statements, why companies need them, and how to craft the perfect mission statement for your organization.
What is a mission statement?
A mission statement is a declaration of what your company does and why it exists. This message is designed for internal and external audiences; it should ignite interest in the organization as it builds its brand.
The best mission statements have two primary objectives:
- Educate: Mission statements educate by sharing what the organization does, how it does it and why.
- Inspire: If it’s a well-written mission statement, its second objective is to inspire. The best mission statements energize people to learn more about the brand and become supporters.
How to create a mission statement
When creating your mission statement, you’ll need to understand its essential components and ask probing questions to define precisely what your organization does and how. Finally, you’ll need to outline your organizational mission so it’s clear to everyone reading it.
1. Include three essential components.
According to Chris Bart, a retired professor of strategy and governance at McMaster University, a well-written mission statement has three essential components. Address each of these components when creating your mission statement:
- The business’s key market: Who is your customer base? What industry does your business serve?
- The company’s contribution, or “what”: What product or service does your business offer? How does it better your local community or humanity?
- Distinctions between your solution and competing ones: What makes your product or service unique? Why should your audience buy your product over the competition’s?
2. Dig deeper to uniquely portray your business.
While incorporating the essential elements, ask yourself – and your team – probing questions to truly understand who your business serves, what your organization does and how it works. Here are some questions to start with:
- Why do we exist?
- What do we do?
- How do we use our products – or services – to achieve our goals?
- Who do we serve?
- How do we serve them?
- What do we do better than anyone else?
- What differentiates us from our competitors?
- How do our customers describe us?
3. Define your organizational mission.
Creating an accurate, inspiring mission statement isn’t purely a philosophical exercise. It has to be practical, too. A mission statement must make sense to those who read it, whether they know about your organization or not.
Keep these four tips in mind as you define your organizational mission:
- Make the connection obvious: People unfamiliar with your company who read your mission statement should come away with a clear, concise understanding of what your organization does and why it exists.
- Be brief, yet informative: Keep the statement under 25 words. If it’s longer, people won’t read it or remember your company.
- Talk to stakeholders: Before finalizing your mission statement, speak to as many stakeholders as possible to see if it makes sense to them. Encourage feedback by seeking out board members’, long-time customers’ and trusted vendors’ opinions.
- Develop a long-term mission: This may be one of the more challenging aspects of writing a mission statement because defining what your organization is about today can be easier than providing predictions. However, you can update your long-term goals as events and changes occur.
Avoid common mission statement mistakes
Since your mission statement helps define your business, getting it right is crucial. Avoid these typical mistakes:
- Using elaborate language: Avoid the pitfalls of “fancy” writing and using ambiguous words. Aim for clarity and brevity, and don’t make your mission statement overly formal. You want people to relate to it, not misunderstand it.
- Failing to update your statement as your business evolves. Revisit your mission statement over time to ensure it still resonates with your company’s current purpose. While it may seem like a clear, concise mission statement should cover all your bases – like any business-defining feature – it must also evolve as your business grows.
What do effective mission statements have in common?
Effective mission statements are succinct and thoughtful.
- Succinct: The more succinct your mission statement, the more likely it will resonate with audiences. A lengthy mission statement that’s challenging to remember can fall flat. A good test to see if your mission statement hits the mark is if your employees can recite it. For example, the mission statement of media organization TED, famous for its TED Talks, is “Spread ideas.” In two short words, TED outlines what it does and why people might be interested in learning more about it.
- Thoughtful: Other companies take a more creative, thoughtful approach. LEGO, whose mission statement, “Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow,” clearly defines what the company does – inspire and develop – and who its target customers are – the builders of tomorrow. In 2009, LEGO’s CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp said, “We make very clear the values we promise everyone we interact with – whether they are colleagues, partners in retail, the wider community, or – most important of all, of course – the children we deeply care for.” Its mission is woven through the entire organization, which is when mission statements come to life.
When companies don’t have well-constructed mission statements (or any mission statement), customers, potential customers and the public are forced to identify for themselves what the company is and why it exists.
What’s the difference between mission and vision statements?
Mission statements and vision statements are both crucial, but they have different objectives. A mission statement is focused on today, while a vision statement is focused on the future – what you want to become and how you want to impact people.
Here are some questions that will define your vision statement:
- What are the organization’s goals and dreams?
- What will the world look like if we are successful?
- What problem(s) is the organization solving for the greater good?
- Who and what are we inspiring to change over the long term?
To help understand how mission statements and vision statements differ, compare Airbnb’s mission and vision statements.
- Airbnb’s mission statement: “Belong anywhere.” This mission statement is short and to the point. The message conveys that you can stay anywhere in the world and feel included when doing business with Airbnb.
- Airbnb’s vision statement: “Tapping into the universal human yearning to belong – the desire to feel welcomed, respected, and appreciated for who you are, no matter where you might be.” This message taps into a larger picture of what a future could look like when the global community imbues Airbnb’s philosophy.
Examples of effective mission statements
Here are examples of effective mission statements from well-known brands. These mission statements briefly define the organization, its purpose and its impact on humanity:
- Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
- JetBlue: “To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.”
- Warby Parker: “To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for socially conscious business.”
- Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
- LinkedIn: “Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
- Microsoft: Early days: “A computer on every desk and in every home.” Now: “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
- Disney: “To entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling.”
- Ford: “To help build a better world, where every person is free to move and pursue their dreams.”
Finding your mission statement language
To get started, start tossing around words with trusted stakeholders. However, remember that you’re not looking for what “sounds good” as much as gaining clarity about what your business does. Brainstorm with others in low-stake sessions and see what language resonates with your brand.
Remember that sounding good is important, but first you must define yourself. If your mission statement includes a nod to your business’s philosophy, values and culture of ethical behavior, the more benefits you’ll reap.
As with any other business plan or project, you may need to explore dozens of ideas before landing on your best fit.
Patrick Proctor contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.