I hate mission statements. I’ve yet to encounter an organisation that operates better because it’s got one. You know the kind of thing I mean, the vacuous phrase displayed in the lobby…
To be the World Leading Provider of Enterprise Centric Productivity Solutions through Innovation and an Empowered Workforce*
Is it any wonder that I’d like to do away with mission statements?
Now, I’m not against ‘articulating the vision’, nor ‘describing our mission’, nor ‘setting out our values’. I just hate it being done in a trite way, devoid of meaning.
Do it in the wrong way, and people in the organisation will pay scant regard to it.
When I was with a client recently, they wanted me to help them with their mission statement, as part of the business planning we were doing. They’d seen other mission statements in other lobbies, and thought they ought to have one too. I persuaded their management team to think about it in a different way.
Instead of Vision, we put into the business plan
Where we want to get to
Instead of Mission, we talked about
Why we’re trying to do this
And instead of a list of Values, we worked on
The principles that will guide us
Talking about these things in plain language helped create a business plan that was believable. It got straight past the “what is a vision?” discussions that have happened previously. The ideas could be discussed with people around the business much more easily and productively.
The text we produced together probably won’t look as neat on a poster in their lobby, but it is clear in the minds of their people. Which is where it needs to be.
In fact, I don’t think they’ll need to put anything up on the lobby wall: I achieved my mission.
* Yes, that’s taken from a real company.
If you disagree with me, and think your current mission statement is wonderful, feel free to add a comment with it included. There aren’t any prizes for the really bad ones, unfortunately.
What i think you’re saying is that there is a stream in business that uses the concept of the mission statement in an uneffective way. (I love your example)
On my blog (about strategic maps for websites) I’m exploring the mission statements also.
I find that the mission statement is about defining the purpose of the company for society.
More or less what you say, also.
I can reccomend this link, , Peter Drucker’s view on things. As he says , it has to be “simple, clear and direct”
Or as I read somwhere, it should fit on a tshirt.
Zuhair Suidan says
Matthew, I compliment you on this article. That’s why in my consulting I shy away from ‘mission statements’ and lean towards creating a ‘business definition’.
I do this along three dimensions:
1. Markets / customer segments that we target
2. Problems / needs / opportunities that we address
3 Solution types / offerings / technologies / products that we provide to address those problems / needs of the markets / customer segments that we target
For each of these three dimensions, we also map what’s in, what’s out, and what’s borderline.
By doing this we get a broad definition of the space that we operate in and a tight definition of what business we are in within that space, what business we’re not in (we recognize that can be an opportunity for others to get into) and what is borderline (presenting an opportunity for expansion for our business).
This ‘business definition’ exercise is invariably quite useful. It drives management to coalesce around what their business is all about – that is their true ‘mission’.