This is part one in a two-part series on creating meaningful mission statements. Read part two here.
Mission statements, when done well, state very clearly what an organization is aiming to accomplish. They should provide a clear framework for what an organization pays close attention to. The process of getting there, however, can be the thing that determines whether your organization has a meaningful mission statement or one that’s a little too generic.
When we work with our clients on crafting mission statements we’re very thoughtful and intentional about the process. We want to be sure we are guiding them to a statement that represents them well and resonates with people throughout the organization.
Before getting into our process (I’ll do that a little later), I want to take a closer look at what makes a mission statement work.
What Makes a “Good” Mission Statement?
A mission statement should be honest, clear, measurable, and meaningful to more people than just the group that created or paid for it. It should have authority and be present in the everyday cultural norms of your organization.
When a good mission statement is taken seriously, when it has actual authority in an organization, then leaders will measure (or pay attention to) whether or not the organization is delivering on that mission. For example, evaluations of employee performance and customer satisfaction will include criteria and language that reflect the mission.
Ideally, a good mission statement and a strong brand promise will function like siblings, both containing the same DNA and together having more authority than any one person in the organization.
One example I like is from Patagonia: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Patagonia’s mission has authority and is guiding cultural norms that create beneficial habits across the organization. It’s meaningful, simple, and clearly reflects behaviors and decisions they make as a business. It does raise a question, though. How do they measure that? Would that mission statement give clarity to each employee about what they are working to accomplish? I hope so.
By contrast, there are plenty of organizations with beautifully written mission statements that have no authority in the organization. Mission statements like that have no real value, or worse could contribute to eroding trust.
CID’s Collaborative Process
Protecting against creating an empty mission statement starts early on by developing it in a thoughtful way. That process - when done well - can be the most valuable part of having a mission statement. That’s because the hard work of choosing those words can align a team of leaders around what matters most.
If the process is not done well, it becomes another dreaded task and you wind up with another meaningless statement. (You know it’s not going well when the heart of the process becomes an exhausting debate about adjectives instead of a deeply aligning discovery of what the organization is truly trying to accomplish.)
Having the right voices in the mix matters. It’s rarely a good idea to have one person create a mission statement in isolation. I recommend gathering a “slice” of the organization. Gather information from leaders in different roles with varying years of experience. It’s also very important to hear from employees from across the organization to get a good cross-section of viewpoints. We typically use surveys and interviews as part of this info-gathering phase.
In most cases, it’s beneficial to create a mission statement in tandem with a brand story, so our mission statement work is baked into that overarching process. We like to uncover the soul of an organization - its true and valuable story - which helps to reveal the mission statement. It’s an extremely collaborative process that usually looks like this:
- Research + Interviews
- Three workshops with key members of the client’s team + CID
- Find the Picture - A workshop to find a shared picture to guide messaging
- Three-Part Elevator Talk - Wordsmithing
- Story Deep Dive - Gathering more details for the story
- Writing - A messaging guide that includes everything from brand positioning and promise to mission/purpose/vision statements.
Throughout the process, we’re asking good questions and encouraging people to share real feelings about their organizations. The final mission statement ought to prove we were listening well during our workshops and research interviews.
What Do You Do With a Mission Statement
Once the statement is complete and approved, you don’t want to just let it sit in a folder. Display it wherever it will help to inform the actions of your team. Use it in ways that inspire and comfort your prospects and customers.
Your mission statement could be used in some or all of these places:
- Workspace wall
- During a pitch
- Day-to-day meetings
- Employee evaluations
What matters is that you keep it in front of people in ways that are relevant to your organization. Give people the chance to see it in action and make it a part of your culture. If the process was solid and your stakeholders were in alignment when crafting the statement it should feel fairly natural to integrate it into your everyday processes.
Get started on the path to crafting a meaningful mission statement for your organization. Contact CID to schedule a workshop with us.