When I speak on the subject of “Developing a Most Meaningful Mission Statement,” I generally respond to a number of specific questions. Here are the most popular of those questions…
Question #1: I keep hearing about a mission statement. What exactly is a mission statement anyway?
Answer: A mission statement is a short, succinct statement declaring what business you’re in and who your customer is. The mission statement has two dimensions... first, it includes the “internal” dimension... that is, it describes the products or services you offer and the functions you perform in preparing that product or service for your customer. Second, it includes the external dimension as well. That is, it is also descriptive of the environment... it identifies the customer and the fundamental reason the customer buys from your organization. Thus the mission statement is a succinct declaration which captures the very essence of your enterprise - your relationship with your customer.
Question # 2: Should we write our mission statement in general terms? Or should we be very specific?
Answer: A well-developed mission statement will be neither very general nor very specific. Rather, it will be focused. It will be broad enough to allow for the diversity which management intends (new products or services, etc.). And it will be specific enough to provide the focus necessary to the success of the business.
Question # 3: Who, within the organization, should develop the mission statement?
Answer: Most often, the mission statement is developed as one important element in the organization’s strategic plan. As such, it’s developed by the same planning team, which develops the strategic plan.
Question # 4: What’s so important about developing a mission statement?
Answer: Developing a mission statement offers significant benefits. The primary benefit is focus. Only by agreeing which target customers to go after, which products or services to offer, can an organization concentrate its limited resources.
Question # 5: But there currently seems to be an increasing interest in developing a mission statement. Why?
Answer: Business managers are currently struggling with the ever-increasing complexity of our economy - with finding and developing skilled employees; with controlling costs; with managing productivity; dealing with competitive pressures and the resultant cost squeeze; with an increasingly long list of government regulations; and with understanding and applying technology.
Managers everywhere are discovering that an important part of the solution to this dilemma is focus - concentration of resources. To achieve this focus, managers must share a common understanding of the very foundation of their enterprise -they must develop their company mission.
Question # 6:Can you give an example of a mission statement?
Answer: Sure. Here’s an example... Institute Aminuddin Baki, MOE Malaysia. (Educational Management and Leadership Training Centre)
“Building educational leadership capacity for quality organization.
Question # 7: The above example of a mission statement is just a single sentence. Aren’t some mission statements longer? Which is better, shorter, or longer?
Answer: A shorter mission statement, such as the example above, describes the essence of the enterprise. It describes the internal dimensions of the business: the products and services offered and the functions performed. And it identifies the market... the customer, and the reason the customer chooses this particular company’s products or services. In effect, the shorter mission statement builds a bridge between the company and its customer.
A longer mission statement builds this same bridge to the customer. But it goes on to describe a number of other relationships as well. Or it may describe its being a good organization... its relationship with its employees. Or it may describe its non-pollution of the air and the water... its relationship with the community.
Certainly, each of these other relationships is important, but only the relationship with the customer is at the very essence of the enterprise. Why? Because if the organization doesn’t manage that one relationship well - if the company doesn’t provide products and services which meet customer needs - then the company can maintain none of its other relationships. For this reason, I favor developing a shorter mission statement... one which is descriptive of the relationship with the customer only.
Question # 8: But if the other relationships are important, shouldn’t we commit them to writing also?
Answer: Yes, you should commit them to writing. But you really shouldn’t describe these relationships in the mission statement... for that would dilute your description of the relationship with your customer. In your strategic plan, you can include a section called, “Organization Philosophy.” In that section, we you write about your organization’s relationships with (its philosophy toward) its owners, its staff, its community, etc.
Question # 9: Should the mission statement describe our business as it is today, or should it describe our business as we would like it to be in the future?
Answer: The development of the mission statement is the step which moves the strategic planning process from the present to the future. In effect, the mission statement must “work” not only today but for the intended life of the strategic plan of which the mission statement is a part. If you’re developing a five year strategic plan, for example, you should believe that the mission statement which you develop today will “work” for the next five years.
Question # 10: But, realistically, shouldn’t we expect some change, from year to year, in our mission statement?
Answer: Yes, of course, you should. Even though you intend that your mission statement “work” for a number of years, circumstances change. So you should be prepared for some change in your mission statement especially when your stakeholder such as government mandate change. But that change should be a fine tuning. Remember, your mission statement is your description of “what business we’re in.” Of your relationship with your customer. As such, it represents the very foundation of your enterprise. Certainly, you wouldn’t want the foundation of your organization changing significantly from year to year