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Mission statements are a critical part of all business planning. They’re created to help businesses avoid wasting massive amounts of time and resources on things that aren’t really moving the core mission forward. Writing a powerful Mission Statement means that everybody in the organization keeps the purpose of the business in mind with everything they do, and management decisions become much clearer.
Your business doesn’t live in your plan; it lives in the things you do day to day.
Sitting down to write a mission statement, however, is no small task. If you’ve never written one before, then expect to pour quite a few hours into finding just the right words. Despite all the effort, people often come away with a mission statement that isn’t doing the job originally intended. It’s pretty common to find yourself falling into a couple of common traps, don’t worry: we’ve got you covered! Here are three of the most common mistakes made with mission statements and how to fix them.
Remember: a mission statement has to mean something to the people who read it. It needs to connect with them on an emotional and intuitive level in order to influence what they do and how they make decisions. There needs to be an effect, not just on yourself, but on everyone who ever deals with your company.
Effective writing almost always means stating things as plainly and simply as possible. This means avoiding fancy words, industry jargon and a bunch of rhetoric meant to impress. These things quickly become cliché and don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.
Ideally, your mission statement is written in language that anyone would understand, even if they have nothing to do with your company at all or are coming in from another industry entirely. Show it to your mother, the clerk at the grocery store, and the hotdog vendor down the street. Ask them if they understand what it says, and if any of it is confusing or if the words are distracting. If they all understand what you wrote, you’re on the right track.
Next, show what you’ve written to the stakeholders: your clients, your peers, and anybody else you might work with. Ask them if it carries real and specific meaning for them personally about what exactly you’re trying to accomplish. Ask them if they can imagine how the mission statement would affect management decisions and shape the way a company would operate.
The important note about the above is that you’re checking with other people about how easy what you’ve written is to understand. You’ll always think what you wrote is obvious – after all, you wrote it! Getting input from others, however, really goes a long way toward making the mission statement as easy to absorb and understand as possible.
Sometimes your language is perfect, but your creativity was a bit over-active during the mission statement writing process. This happens to many people, and in the end, they end up with a mission statement that incorporates so many different things that the essential core meaning gets lost completely.
The key element every mission statement needs is to be useful. If a person can’t quickly glance over at a plaque on the wall and get a reminder of what your organization is all about, then you’ve lost that opportunity to keep them focused on what it’s all about.
This means that you need to be able to scan it quickly. A page-long mission statement, or even one that’s a couple of paragraphs, won’t be read by most people. If they do read it, they’ll only read it once because they were extremely bored or someone forced them to, and they won’t remember any of it because there was just too much text for them to properly process. Remember: this is supposed to be a constant reminder of what everything you do is about, so it needs to be easy to absorb.
So, start cutting! Aim for a short paragraph of one to three sentences. If there are areas of your business that aren’t specifically covered, that’s okay. A mission statement is about the spirit behind things, not the specifics, so go ahead and generalize a bit to get it all summed up.
The first place a mission statement is typically used is in a business plan. It’s a great way to make sure that every step of your plan follows your original intent, and is a great place to start.
The trouble is that after this point, a lot of people take their mission statement, file it away, and forget all about it. Remember: your business doesn’t live in your plan; it lives in the things you do day to day. If the mission statement is to be the guiding principle behind everything, it needs to be foremost in your mind throughout the day. If this isn’t the case, something needs to happen.
One of the easiest and most obvious things people do is create a page on their website specifically for their mission statement. This gives you a quick way to refer back to it later and allows you to use it both as a reference for your stakeholders and marketing material.
A lot of people take it to the next level and print their mission statement in a large font, frame it, and put it on the wall where they can see it. Done with some care this can be a beautiful addition to any office, and it’s an opportunity to get creative as well. After all: you spent a lot of time crafting these words in the first place, so why not show them off?
Many businesses have annual reviews where they take a look back at their past goals and milestones, take stock in how things went, and make new goals and plans for the future. During this process it’s often a good idea to spend some time asking questions like: have I been working directly towards my mission? Have I done anything that runs counter to the mission? What changes can I make to steer more directly towards where I want to be going?