Writing a mission statement for your brand or company before you've nailed down your mission is like pulling the trigger before you've found the target. Yet, as we saw last time, many companies are shouting, "Ready, fire, aim!"
A viable mission—that is, one you can turn into a useful mission statement—has got to satisfy three criteria. It has to be clear, achievable and inspiring.
MAKING IT CLEAR
For a mission to be clear to those trying to accomplish it, it actually has to be mission—you know, a goal, objective or quest. Something you want to achieve. Yet here is what Goldman Sachs calls their “mission statement”—
The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. is a leading global financial services firm providing investment banking, securities and investment management services to a substantial and diversified client base that includes corporations, financial institutions, governments and high-net-worth individuals. Founded in 1869, the firm is headquartered in New York and maintains offices in London, Frankfurt, Tokyo and other major financial centers around the world.
Do you see a mission there? Me, neither. Ugh.
A clear mission is also a singular mission—one simple goal everyone can rally behind: “Conquer foot fungus.” “Teach French to farmers.” “Put mushrooms on every table.” Those are clear, singular missions, however dubious.
But too often what passes for a mission is a statement negotiated among competing agendas. The result: a Frankenmission that pleases everyone and serves no one.
|Great railroad, lousy mission|
Take Norfolk Southern, the great freight railroad. Imagine the great mission that could drive an iconic railroad. Where they wound up stinks of semantic negotiation:
To enhance the value of our stockholders’ investment over time by providing quality freight transportation services and undertaking any other related business in which our resources, particularly our people, give the company advantage.
In other words, our mission is whatever we feel like at the moment. Is that clear?
But drug chain CVS on the other hand couldn’t be clearer about what they want to achieve:
We will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use.
I get it. You get it. Customers get it. It’s clear.
MAKING IT ACHIEVABLE
Remember way back in the last century, before you could stream the entire season of Mad Men in HD to your smartphone? Remember tying up your phone line with that modem that went wheeeee-whaaaaaaa-whooooooooo-eeeeeeeeeee, and those thrilling words: “You’ve got mail”?
|Which way did he go?|
AOL had embarked on a quest—
“to build a global medium as central to people’s lives as the telephone or television . . . and even more valuable.”
That's a clear and inspiring mission. And you know what? They freaking did it! Early on, AOL even became synonymous with the Internet. So at some point they rightfully concluded they needed to update their mission. And this—this is what they came up with:
To serve the world’s most engaged community.
Huh? Isn’t that wedding planners do? AOL followed this unclear, uninspiring and non-achievable mission straight into a southbound handbasket. Now AOL is synonymous with your grandmother.
Your mission should aim for a clear destination, and it should aim high. But not so high that it forever exceeds your grasp. How high is that? Well, here’s one of the ballsiest missions ever, and it wasn't too high:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
Mission accomplished, with five months to spare. And we haven’t had a comparable mission since.
MAKING IT INSPIRING
A real mission answers perhaps the most important question of all: Why?
Why are we in this business? Why do we get out of bed and come to work each morning?
Here’s the mission statement of Dean Foods Corporation:
To maximize long-term stockholder value while adhering to the law of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.
Does that get your motor running? Does it give you a reason to come to work every day? Didn’t think so.
Now here’s a mission:
To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Yeah—to become the cheering section for every intramural soccer and beer-league softball players everywhere. To empower amateurs and pros alike. I don’t even have to tell you who this is.
Nike has been telling us to “Just do it” since 1988. That kind of durability is the hallmark of a strong brand. (Interestingly—horrifyingly, actually—the phrase was allegedly borrowed by Nike’s ad agency from the final words of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore at his execution.)
And who wouldn't be motivated by this mission?—
To achieve a world without breast cancer.Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a clear, achievable and inspiring mission.
Do you? Awesome. Next time we’ll to see how to capture it in a mission statement that doesn’t suck.