It’s your best and earliest shot at telling employees and the world what you’re about.
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You’ve probably already gotten the message by now that your new company or startup needs a good mission statement. It’s how you pinpoint and communicate the essence of your small business and what it stands for. An effective statement encapsulates what you do, who you do it for and, most of all, why you do it. It can touch on other essential aspects, such as your company’s goals or what differentiates you from the competition, but don’t confuse it with a more goal-focused vision statement.
You can find lots of mission-statement templates online, and as helpful as those may (or may not) be, they don’t really explain what you truly need to know, i.e. how do you write an amazing one of your own?
What makes up an unforgettable mission statement?
The best mission statements generally meet four criteria:
Above all, it should inspire you and your team. This means it packs a surprising emotional wallop.
It should be succinct. Great mission statements are not only brief but packed. In short, they convey a lot of information in a finite amount of space. Aim for two-to-four sentences totaling about 100 words or fewer.
It should be timeless, living well past the initial lauch frenzy. Think “evergreen.” it doesn’t have to last forever, but typically, great mission statements don’t often get radically changed.
Finally, it should reflect your company’s core values and purpose. The thing that drives your company (and you) to succeed should be reflected in the core of your statement. It will impact company culture, decision-making and business strategy.
So how do you go about creating your company’s mission statement? Stick to these five rules of thumb:
1. Address your key stakeholders.
Begin with your audience. In order, the most important stakeholders for your mission statement are:
In spreading the message about what you do, why you do it and who you do it for, your statement needs to speak to each of these groups. Customers want to know what distinguishes your solutions from all the others at their disposal. Employees want to know what you’re about and where they fit into that mission. And partners and investors need to be reassured that you’re really intent on delivering value.
2. State your purpose.
Why did you start this particular business? What drove you to drop all other forms of gainful employment and choose this particular path. That is, what led you to start this specific company or nonprofit organization from scratch? The answer to that question should form the meat of your mission statement. Start by jotting down a few different phrases to describe that overpowering “why,” and be as specific as possible.
Your purpose can be just about anything, but it’s important that it’s authentic to your personal mission and that of your company. You can’t miss the global scope of Google‘s mission statement to “organize the world’s information,” or Tesla’s vow to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Amazon wants to be the earth’s most “customer-centric” company, while Starbucks aims to “nurture the human spirit.” What drives you and your team? And how would you express that to someone who genuinely wanted to know?
3. Use specific, simple language.
The vague corporate lingo that pervades business culture is wholly out of place when it comes to your mission statement. Instead, look for the right words, which are almost always highly specific, simpler and more colorful than the overused buzzwords we’re all sick of.
If needed, use a thesaurus to pinpoint the precise phrasing that makes your mission statement sing. Read it out loud a few times to friends or other business owners and ask them if it sounds meaningful to them. If they look at you with confused expressions, go back and try again.
4. Infuse it with spirit.
A mission statement should inspire your stakeholders and team members. It should excite the people who are your ideal customers and prospects. If yours is less than motivational, try thinking of it from the perspective of the person listening. Your core audience, as noted above, consists of your customers, employees and investors. What would make each of these groups sit up a little straighter and nod along in enthusiasm? What’s best about your company? What aspirational goals are your team members excited to strive for and achieve?
Try to infuse a bit of that can-do human spirit and energy, and don’t be shy about making bold declarations. One of the best ways to motivate a team is to set a lofty yet attainable goal, then declare it out loud.
5. Don’t needle your statement to death.
A final caveat: While the mission statement is important, and you should spend some time getting it right, it’s sometimes tempting to work it over endlessly until it feels perfect. But by repeatedly revising it, you risk draining its lifeblood. An imperfect but heartfelt and energizing mission statement is far better than one that’s been edited into dry, dusty, uninspiring prose.
At the same time, take enough time to get it right. Sit with it for some time and see how it feels. Ask your key stakeholders how they feel about it, and take their input seriously. And once you’re finally secure with what’s in front of you, share it with the world.