Create a Winning Mission Statement

Create a Winning Mission Statement


Don’t underestimate the power of words in making your business work! Your mission statement can be one of the most powerful tools to market your business and keep your employees (and yourself) focused and motivated.

This is what David J Collis and Michael Rukstad said about mission statements in the Harvard Business Review of April 2008:  “The value of rhetoric should not be underestimated. A 35 word statement can have a substantial impact on a company’s success. Words do lead to action. Spending time to develop the few words that truly capture your strategy and that will energize and empower your people will raise the long-term financial performance of your organization.”

Unfortunately there are mission statements and then there are mission statements. The majority of them are appallingly bad.  We’ve all heard the smug declarations that “This company’s mission is maximising shareholder value.”  Uggghhh!

Of course companies must maximise shareholder value, but it is meaningless as a mission statement, unless of course you are an investment company!  It’s about as informative as saying “good morning” when you meet someone.

Surely what we as clients and your employees are interested in is “how?” And the “how” shouldn’t sound like a legal document, covering all bases. Coming to think of it, the expression “maximising shareholder value” is pompous. Why not simply: “We want to make money for our shareholders?”

Short, sweet, effective

Here is a (thankfully!) short version of the ‘maximising stakeholder variety of mission statements’: “The Company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.” Would you have guessed that ‘they’, Dean Foods Corporation, were a food and beverage company?

Compare those statements with Fortune 500 Company ADM whose business is agricultural products: “To unlock the potential of nature to improve the quality of life.”  Short, sweet, effective! Please, remember, you needn’t say it all in your mission statement.

There are other elements of your corporate profile, such as your slogan or strapline, your values and your vision statement that will tell the whole story. Keep every single element of your profile, such as the mission statement, focused and crisp.

The problem with all these “maximising shareholder value” mission statements is that they don’t sit well with clients. To the client it sounds too much like “we will fleece you to the last Rand.” Or: “Look at our smiling shareholders, how happy they are after we have squeezed the last drop of blood from you!”

The mission statement is your opportunity to explain to clients why your business exists at all. And no matter how important it is to make money for your shareholders, that is not the reason why your enterprise exists. Your enterprise exists because it addresses a need in the world out there.

Meeting clients halfway

Real people of flesh and blood need groceries. That’s why SPAR, Checkers and Pick n Pay exist. An enterprise’s reason for being is in the needs of their clients. Only by fulfilling clients’ needs efficiently and to their satisfaction can you make money for yourself and your shareholders. See?

So this is where you begin to craft your mission statement, by asking: “What needs do my enterprise fulfil?” What is our reason for being?  If I had to close my doors tomorrow, who else in the wide world out there would miss us and why?

Would anyone except employees and shareholders burst into tears if we had to cease to exist tomorrow? Your mission statement must tell your clients how you are going to help them.

The beauty of it is that your employees will also know what they are supposed to be doing and why they are doing it!

The perfect mission statement

In my consultancy I always use Winston Churchill’s statement to the British people after a disastrous start to World War II, as the ultimate mission statement:

“You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea and land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the long and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”

Well, no doubt hey? No room for misunderstanding, everybody knows what’s to be done. You are in for a helluva fight; don’t even think of raising the white flag.

Now, not all of us live in such exciting times and with such a historical mission to accomplish. Most of our businesses won’t be defined by fighting for a cause. Don’t expect your corporate cleaning services business to have such an exciting, heroic tone to it. But you can be just as explicit, clear and convincing.

The following is a thankfully short, but inappropriate mission statement: Our goal is to be the leader in every market we serve, to the benefit of our customers and our shareholders.” The Dover Corporation is an equipment manufacturer.

What they have here is not a mission statement, but a strategic goal, to be the leader in every market. As a company you have more than enough room for telling all and sundry what your strategy is, but in the mission statement you must tell everybody what need in the real world out there you are addressing.

Let’s compare it to the mission statement I have helped to create for corporate cleanings services company, Libera: Our mission is to create hygienic, aesthetic, productive environments that comply with all regulations.”

This tells us that our premises will be both germ free and pleasing to the eye so that we can get your work done with a smile. Also, you won’t be surprised by the health inspectors, because all the paperwork will be in order.

You can imagine the presentation to a prospective client ticking these boxes one by one. You can imagine when walking the CEO through the premises pointing out why this spot is hygienically clean, not only appearing to be clean; pointing the finger to how esthetically pleasing that corner over there is, once a horrible eyesore.

Then indicating how productivity is enhanced in this clean and pleasing environment. Then, finally quickly running through the list of regulatory requirements and putting the CEO at ease that all has been taken care of. You can also imagine the supervisor doing inspection with the cleaners and asking:

“Here are the results of the tests, this is not hygienic. Look there, do you think the people who work here will want to face that every day? How are they going to work here, if we leave it like that?”

The mission statement must keep you and your employees focused on the reason why you are being paid by your clients. Good to remind shareholders too, where and how the money comes from. The mission statement must focus the clients’ attention on the reason why their cares have been relieved and why they can sit back, happy and content.

So, what’s my mission for my consulting business? “I help you to differentiate yourself from the opposition.” This is the main purpose of strategy and branding. Need I say more? Follow my advice, get a mission statement that reminds your clients how lucky they are to have you help them and you will be different from the herd in both in marketing and management!

Bertie du Plessis
Bertie du Plessis founded his successful consultancy firm, MindPilot, 17 years ago. He names several of South Africa’s blue chip corporations among his client list and has taught as a lecturer and guest lecturer in six different disciplines at tertiary institutions. His blog is the most read business blog on the domain. Visit Bertie Du Plessis's website for more information.