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Why The Most Abused Sentence In Your Company Is Bad For Business

Most businesses use this phrase in their most important documents. Here’s why a mission statement has become meaningless.

Why The Most Abused Sentence In Your Company Is Bad For Business
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A mission statement is meant to be the most aspirational and powerful sentence a company produces, equally effective at rallying employees and encouraging outsiders. It isn’t. Why? It’s typically flawed in one or two ways:

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1. It’s self-indulgent

A mission should be benefit-driven. It should speak to the impact a company can have in the world. Instead, because of the way we approach the assignment, it’s inwardly focused. It speaks to what a company wants to accomplish and how successful it wants to be. The problem with that is the audience doesn’t care, nor should they.

For example:

Under Armour’s mission is to provide the world with technically advanced products engineered with our superior fabric construction, exclusive moisture management, and proven innovation.

Providing–or in other words, selling–your product to the world isn’t a mission. It’s a quarterly sales objective.

2. It’s all-encompassing

A mission statement can be a window into a company’s culture, or at the very least, its internal review process. Often an entire executive team will weigh in on the statement since they’re all vested stakeholders in the company’s strategy and future. This groupthink can be quite evident.

For example:

[Hitachi’s] mission is to create richer lives and a better society by providing products, systems, and services with a new level of value and potential based on the latest advances in technology, especially knowledge and information technology.

To accomplish the same goal in a more effective fashion, apply the screenwriter’s method. As every script takes shape, the screenwriter develops the theme or premise of the story. It is the critical guiding force of the narrative arc and everything that resides within it. In Robert McKee’s landmark book Story, he describes it as the “controlling idea.” He writes: “Like theme, it names a story’s root or central idea, but it also implies function–the controlling Idea shapes the writer’s strategic choices.”

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Doesn’t that last part sound exactly like what a mission statement is meant to do? To serve as the North Star for a company at all times so their decision making is rooted in their reason for existing as a company. In a single sentence, the controlling idea “describes how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end.” Slightly altered for business, you would say it “describes how and why life undergoes positive change from one condition of existence without your brand to another with it.”

This shift in perspective is critical. Now the business owner is thinking in terms of what will have great meaning to their audience and not great meaning to themselves. The beauty is that thinking first about delighting your customer improves the likelihood of financial success.

For example:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

In the information age, that’s needed, valued, and lucrative.

If I were to apply the screenwriter’s method, I might rewrite Under Armour’s mission statement or controlling idea as:

Under Armour makes athletes, both serious and recreational, stronger in mind and body with equipment designed solely for optimal performance.

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Each word is chosen purposefully. I know from reading this that:

  • Under Armour services athletes of all kinds, not just professionals
  • They recognize that performance is influenced by the athlete’s mentality
  • They’re expanding to product categories beyond apparel by saying equipment
  • Performance will always trump fashion in their product design

Is that exactly true to Under Armour’s mission? I can’t know from outside the company and the boardroom. But the one thing I do know is that it’s a heck of a lot more inspiring and specific to what Under Armour wants to do for its customers.

Clay Hausmann is a marketing consultant and Sundance Screenwriters Lab finalist who helps companies create their original brand voice through the methods of screenwriting. His approach has been utilized by startups and public companies for everything from marketing launches to product development processes. To learn more, visit www.treatmentofstory.com.