How to Write a Mission Statement That Doesn't Suck [Video]

I want to show you why most mission statements are so terrible.

Let's say you founded a pizza parlor. And your first idea for a mission statement is something like this: "Our mission is to serve the tastiest damn pizza in Wake County." That's pretty good. If I worked for you, I could get excited about that. Now here's how it will go off the rails.

So you'll call your colleagues around the conference room table to unveil the mission, and all of the sudden, these people that you like and respect are going to transform into 10th-grade English teachers, nitpicking every word. Everybody starts chiming in with opinions: "Hey, I really like the word 'present' better than 'serve,' it has a nice resonance." And someone else will say, "Well, we obviously can't say 'damn,' that's just offensive." And so it begins. And as you go around the table, your mission statement will be pecked to death.

  • We can't limit ourselves to Wake County--and also, it's not just tasty pizza right, it's about freshness--we should say "high quality" not tasty.
  • Isn't it weird that we mention pizza but not our great salads and calzones? What if we changed it to "highest-quality Italian food"?
  • That's good but even "Italian" seems limiting--what if we decide to move into gyros?
  • Hold the phone, people, we haven't even mentioned the great family atmosphere--the coloring books and big comfy booths and all that.
  • Great point--you know what we're really doing here, at the end of the day? We're providing a family "entertainment solution!"
  • Yeah, solution!
  • NAILED IT.
  • [Dan] Everyone's excited now. You're almost there. And then Steve at the end of the table pipes up ...
  • [Steve] Listen, guys, we haven't mentioned anything about integrity. That's what it's all about, at the end of the day. Integrity.

And is anyone at the table gonna go to the mat against including "integrity?" Nope. So it's in. And presto--there's your new mission statement:

"Our mission is to present with integrity the highest-quality entertainment solutions to families."

That's what 99% of the world's mission statements sound like, and I think you see the trap here--getting so vague and fancy with the language that it just becomes meaningless. Here are 2 ways to avoid it:

Use concrete language. Check out this mission statement from SonicBids, a fast-growing small business: "We want to help musicians get gigs, and promoters book the right bands. ... We're a bunch of people who think that music can truly change the world and make it smaller and better. ... We believe that independent music belongs everywhere: on festival stages; in video game consoles; on film screens; in college theaters; on the radio; in advertisements; on club stages and at sporting events." Wow. It gives you a picture of what they do and tells you why it's worth doing.

Talk about the why. Most mission statements are all statement and no mission. The whole point is to say why you're doing what you're doing. What makes you care? Look at the start of Johnson & Johson's famous credo: "Our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, and patients, mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services." Well, okay, that's worth getting out of bed for. Compare that with ExxonMobil's. Did you feel that? A little part of your soul just died, reading that.

So you've seen why bad mission statements happen and two tips for making yours different.  And in the meantime, let me challenge you to do the impossible: Write a mission statement that means something. And I'll give you a hint: If it contains the word "solution," you're not there yet. Thanks for watching.

For More on this topic: Download this document Chip and I developed: "5 Tips for a Sticky Strategic Vision." Here's a funny and illuminating review of a book on Mission Statements. My opinion is that most organizations would benefit more from setting a clear, ambitious goal than from crafting the perfect mission statement. On that front, check out Collins and Porras's work on setting a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal)--here's the original piece (for free) and a helpful overview with lots of examples. (Bonus: here are some audio resources from the guru Jim Collins himself.) And, for inspiration: The J&J Credo. (Many observers credit the Credo with helping to shape J&J's admirable response to the Tylenol-poisoning crisis in the 1980s.)

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16 Comments

  • MobilMojo

    We were just planning to 'fine-tune' our mission statement, but now I think its just fine as it is:

    'Helping people find the best mobile deals in Australia'

    Not too bad, if I may so myself :)

    www.phonesandplans.com.au

  • Cliff Allen

    So many company mission statements are about the "Me, me, me" of the company -- and not about actually providing value to customers.

    I like to see companies get their marketing "positioning statement" refined first so they can focus on their customers when writing their mission statement.

  • George Kyaw Naing

    I think mission statement should also be inspiring/motivating to the staff. It should show them the achieavle/credib;e/doable way forward. It should also inspire the customers and other constituents.

    One of the best mission statements I've noted is Mao's during Long March.
    He said his party was "moving to the North of China to fight the Japanese there."
    He said "moving" but they are fleeing.
    He said "to fight the Japanese." That won over many patriots. But he was mainly after power.
    Tricky, but very effective.
    Misleading but that fooled his competitors.

    george
    http://ethicminds.blogspot.com...

  • Mary Parker

    We changed our mission statement for our inpatient surgical nursing unit. It was bland and less than awe-inspiring. Now, we say, "We deliver the best healthcare on and off the battlefield." Yeah, we have no problems getting up to go to work in the morning.

  • Andrew Grant

    Sobering stuff thats all good, but I think that the process is important not just the end result. The discussing of the words helps people think about what they are really trying to achieve. Whats most interesting is that we took some video cameras into an ordinary Australian office to see if people knew what their mission statement was. Ironically all of them knew it was on the fridge door and looked at it every day. When asked what it was they all drew a blank. Check out this funny video IT'S ON THE FRIDGE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... or www.tirian.com

  • Lloyd Lemons

    Yes, mission statements often fall victim to being "pecked to death" at the conference room table. And, so does marketing copy! It may have taken a copywriter days to craft an effective landing page, or sales letter. Then, a bunch of non-writer, non-marketer, 9th grade English class devotees, (aka “the conference table gang”) sit around and systematically destroy what could have been an effective marketing message—and they can do it in minutes. Then, they leave (all smiles) thinking they just saved the day.

    This is why there is so much confusing web content, idiotic brochures, stupid direct mail, and useless e-mail promotions. We have more data than we’ve ever had, with which to know our customers wants and needs, and yet, IMHO, we have lost the ability to tell a story, or at the very least to provide credible and engaging content that will allow the reader/listener to make an intelligent buying decision.

    Good copy comes from an informed, singular, synthesizing mind. Copy (ad copy, online content, OR mission statements) should never be written by committee. Or, dismantled by committee.

  • Chris Reich

    I see the 'bad' examples all the time. I especially love it when I'm in the 15th round of trying to unravel a screw-up of an order I've placed and in comes an email from a customer service supervisor telling me there's nothing they can do. There, after the name and company on the signature line is some cornball statement about how much they value every customer and are in business to meet my every need. It's as bad as the phone robot who tells you how every customer is valued but your hold time will be an hour so you might want to just quit now.

    I think most companies are better off not having a Mission Statement until they are ready to live up to whatever statement they create. Otherwise, they just look foolish.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Lester III

    Very nice piece. It reminds me of that old joke: what is a camel? A camel is a horse created by committee.

  • Carol O'Brien

    Great video. Reminds me that small companies can make the same mistakes as larger companies. They go into "corporate" mode and lose their entrepreneurial spark. Thanks for the reminder to keep it real!
    -- Carol
    Founder, Cleanicity

  • Peter Flatow

    Someone told me, "if you want to make a million dollars", write a book "How to Make a Million Dollars"! Marketing 101 - it is all about the benefit. Consumers buy benefits not attributes. A good mission makes clear to everyone what is the benefit we want to deliver better and why should the consumer trust us to do so.

  • Peter Flatow

    Someone told me, "if you want to make a million dollars", write a book "How to Make a Million Dollars"! Marketing 101 - it is all about the benefit. Consumers buy benefits not attributes. A good mission makes clear to everyone what is the benefit we want to deliver better and why should the consumer trust us to do so.

  • Peter Flatow

    Someone told me, "if you want to make a million dollars", write a book "How to Make a Million Dollars"! Marketing 101 - it is all about the benefit. Consumers buy benefits not attributes. A good mission makes clear to everyone what is the benefit we want to deliver better and why should the consumer trust us to do so.