Mission Statements - Getting Them Right (Print Version)

Mission statements are supposed to help with your:

    • business strategic planning – by providing the long term direction for your organization

    • strategy coaching – by enabling your employees to understand what your organization is trying to accomplish over the long term

In reality, too many mission statements fail miserably at these tasks. They neither assist with business strategic planning, nor with strategy coaching. Most mission statements are just too long, and they just don’t differentiate their organizations. In order to get mission statements that work, we need to follow what I call the “CDW rule”. This rule is that a mission statement should be:

    • concise

    • differentiate your organization

In addition, executives should:

    • walk the talk in the mission statement

Concise

Mission statements should be concise. This matters, because the longer a mission statement is, the less likely people are to remember it. To illustrate this point, how many people do you know who can recite their organization’s current mission statements off-by-heart? (When I ask this question, only a small fraction of the executives that I ask are actually able to recite their organizations’ mission statements, without prompting.)

The lesson here is quite simple - keep your mission statement concise. In practice, a mission statement should be no more than one sentence, so that it can assist both with business strategic planning, and with strategy coaching.

Differentiate your organization

Differentiate your organization in your mission statement. Unfortunately, all too many mission statements contain anodyne phrases such as “delight our customers” and “satisfy our stakeholders”. There is nothing wrong with these sentiments, except that they fail to differentiate an organization. They fail to give employees any kind of direction for their organization, and thus are ineffective in guiding business strategic planning and in strategy coaching.

Successful mission statements are finely tuned to the strategic direction of the organization which they serve, and thereby differentiate their organizations. They make it clear to employees what their organization is trying to accomplish over the long term, and are effective in guiding business strategic planning and in strategy coaching.

Walk the talk

Walk the talk in the mission statement – otherwise your mission statement is nothing more than a collection of words. So, for example, if an organization’s mission statement includes the statement that it will “delight our customers”, it is essential for executives to carry out customer satisfaction surveys on a frequent basis so that they can see whether their organization is actually fulfilling its mission. Executives who follow the directions of their mission statements make them into effective tools for both business strategic planning and for employee strategy coaching.

Using the CDW rule

It takes work to develop a mission statement that is concise and which differentiates your organization. It takes even more work to put the mission statement into effect. But by using the CDW rule you, too, can make your mission statement into something that will help your organization succeed at business strategic planning, and with strategy coaching.