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How to Write the Perfect Mission Statement

Mission Statement

Does your organisation have a mission statement? If it does, is it in need a bit of a revamp? Perhaps it was knocked up on the back of a beer mat one Friday night, followed you back to the office and has been hanging around ever since.

Here, we explain why having a good mission statement is important, and then take you through how to write a mission statement that resonates with your customers and motivates your employees.

What is a mission statement

First things first, just to make sure we're all mumbling from the same beer mat, let's start by saying what a mission statement is. Well, according to the CIM:

"A mission statement is a statement that provides a signpost of where your business aims to be in the future."

It should do two things:

  • explain what business you are in
  • motivate and provide a shared sense of purpose

Here's an example mission statement that hasn't changed since the company, Newport News Shipbuilding, was founded in 1886:

"We shall build good ships here - at a profit if we can - at a loss if we must - but always good ships."

Pretty much ticks both the boxes. Says what they do and the no-nonsense style is certainly motivational. Heck! I want to go out and build myself a ship, right now! And not any old ship, oh no, a good ship.

Why is it important

So a mission statement provides a clear signpost to the future and gives clear focus for everyone with an interest in your organisation.

And once you know where you want to go as a business, you can then start to define relevant strategies to help you get there. This will significantly increase your chances of success.

A good mission statement should:

  • Provide future direction
  • Be realistic (and therefore be credible)
  • Include clear customer benefit
  • Be motivational (by embodying the challenge and rewards)

Four steps to creating a mission statement

Steps? Did I say steps? Actually, it's kind of steps, but really there's four step'ish sort of questions to answer:

  1. What business are you in?
  2. What are your business aspirations?
  3. What keywords describe how your product or service is delivered?
  4. What is the best way to express your mission?
1. What business are you in?

This is a no-brainer, surely? We're a cheese maker... we're in the cheese business! No, no, no, wrong - you're in the filling-my-growling-belly-at-three-in-the-morning business. The trick here is to answer from the perspective of your customers. For example, the manager of a plant nursery might answer with "we sell plants and accessories". However, it's much better to focus on the customer need you're fulfilling and say, "we sell beautiful gardens".

So, the real question here is more like: What specific customer problem are you solving by fulfilling their need? This will help you stay focused because the ways in which a problem or need can be fulfilled could change over time.

When defining what customer needs you meet, don't be too narrow and don't be too broad. Too narrow might limit the playing field on which you compete in the future; and too broad might leave you with something vague and lacking clarity. Your definition should also consider the business ability (resources and skills) needed to deliver and compete in meeting the needs.

Another example, this time from a hotel:

"We will provide our guests with high quality accommodation, superb food and excellent service."

Fine, but what's the benefit to the customer? The statement could do with a bit more attention to the customer's perspective, rather than what the hotel is providing.

2. What are your business aspirations?

You can define business aspirations in financial terms ('double the profits in five years') or market terms ('become the market leader'). However, neither is customer-driven or motivational. They are very unlikely to motivate employees and fill them with a collective sense of purpose. It is better for aspirations to be written in terms of the customer group you'll serve, the needs you'll meet, or the means by which you'll do this.

With the hotel example, we could say that the services are aimed at guests looking for a relaxing break:

"We will provide such a relaxing stay that our guests will want to return."

This includes the customer benefit of relaxation and implicitly the customer group. It distinguishes the hotel from another targeting guests looking for a family holiday or a conference venue, for example.

3. What keywords describe how your product or service is delivered?

Your mission statement should relate to your customers in language they would recognise, understand and value. The above hotel example uses the word 'relaxing', which is recognisable as a benefit, and the word 'guests', rather than customers or clients.

When developing your mission statement, consider words that add vitality and meaning, and with which your customers will identify.

4. What is the best way to express your mission?

You're now ready to create several possible mission statements using the thoughts you've gathered by answering the previous three questions. Here's an approach to get you started...

  • Start with the words 'We are in the business of ...
  • Describe the type(s) of customers or customer group(s) you serve
  • Describe the customer need you are satisfying or the customer benefit you are providing
  • Describe what you are doing or providing to meet that need

For example:

"We are in the business of re-energising (benefit to the customer) tired and stressed people (customer group) by providing a relaxing stay in a peaceful location with healthy food and exercise (what you are providing."

It contains all the essential ingredients, but is still a little clumsy and could really do with some seasoning.

When you have a couple of candidates, reject any that do not meet all of the following criteria:

  • It provides a view of the future
  • It is credible to both customers and employees
  • It is outward-looking and contains or implies a clear customer benefit
  • It is unique to our business, embracing what we are good at

This is a useful point at which to involve your employees in the process. They will be key in making the vision a reality and should feel that they have something to contribute to it. Encourage them to evaluate the statements as a whole, as well as the key words or phrases they feel provide the most realistic and dynamic signpost to the future.

From this discussion a clear mission statement should emerge - one that motivates and involves everyone in your organisation.

What to do now

When you have a statement you are happy with, take it to the world. Every time you mention it to customers and others, you are not just reminding yourself of what your business is all about but also reinforcing your commitment to make it happen.

This article is based on a full guide from the CIM, which you can download at the top of this page.