Let’s Decommission the Mission Statement

Let's Decommission the mission statement – The Fundamental Group

We have been asked by several clients to help them with mission statements over the years, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to put the mission statement as we know it out of commission.  Today’s businesses need something that’s simpler and more compelling.  Here’s why:

They’re usually too long.

If a mission statement is meant to inspire, then it should be memorable and repeatable.  Every employee, customer or investor should be able to remember it verbatim – or nearly so.  At one time, General Motors’ mission statement was: “G.M. is a multinational corporation engaged in socially responsible operations, worldwide. It is dedicated to provide products and services of such quality that our customers will receive superior value while our employees and business partners will share in our success and our stock-holders will receive a sustained superior return on their investment.”

Quick – repeat part of that without looking.  How could anyone remember all of that mess?  If you can’t remember it, it can’t be effective.  No more than 10 words.

They’re not original. 

Go back to that GM statement.  The fact that they are socially responsible is at least somewhat original – especially for a car manufacturer.  But after that, the statement goes south fast.  They make quality products.  Wow – and so many businesses set out to make poor quality ones!  They provide superior value to customers.  Ummm – if you don’t provide value, you won’t be in business for long.  And they are going to offer superior return on investment?  How groundbreaking.  No one has ever suggested THAT before.  What is the point of writing down things that nearly every company does, or tries to do?  Who will listen and who will care?  You must be different, original and big in your thinking with mission statements.  Too many companies aren’t.

They’re all over the place.

GM is about 4 different things – social responsibility, quality, value and ROI.  This is a laundry list.  What’s most important?  Pick one thought.  One idea.  Otherwise, you are everything to everyone and nothing at all.

One of the biggest problems is companies are asking too much of a mission statement.  One Forbes Contributor recommends that a mission statement should answer these questions:

  • What do we do?
  • How do we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

That’s a lot to ask of any statement, and it also gets you into talking about multiple aspects of your business.

Instead of trying to wrestle down the unwieldy mission statement, we steer clients towards something much simpler.  We call it a Brand Principle Statement, owing heavily to the Brand Ideal espoused by Jim Stengel in his book Grow.  It’s a 7-10 word articulation of why your organization exists – and gives a reason anyone should care.

If you can provide a clear and inspiring reason for being for your organization, what you do and how you do it will follow.  Very few companies have a hard time articulating what their products are, and what the products do.  But the reason the company exists is another matter entirely.  It’s similar to Simon Sinek’s strategy to “Start with why.”

If customers understand your “why” and are on board with it, they will want to do business with you.

If employees understand your “why” they are motivated every morning to do great work with you.

If investors understand your “why” they will support you in what your are trying to achieve.

When that happens, you will have achieved more than what 99.9% of mission statements do.

I’ll talk more in my next post about what makes for a good Brand Principle Statement, and how to go about creating one.

Tell me what you think about mission statements in the comments.

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