Most mission statements are full of blah truisms and are anything but inspirational. A company’s employees don’t really need to be told that, ‘The mission of XYZ Widgets is to make the best widgets in the world while providing excellent service.’ They must think, ‘As opposed to what? Making the worst widgets and offering the lousiest service?’
Such statements show that management lacks imagination, and perhaps in some cases, direction.
At the opposite end of the scale is the statement that fails through flowery waffling. An example: ‘Yahoo powers and delights our communities of users, advertisers and publishers – all of us united in creating indispensable experiences, and fueled by trust.’ That sounds wonderful, but what does it mean?
Whoever wrote it should try listening to the company’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, who said: “Yahoo is about making the world’s daily habits inspiring and entertaining.” It’s not perfect, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Would it fit a coat of arms?
Some companies are not actually able to carry out their mission. The reasons can range from a disruption in the markets to a merger or acquisition, and then there are cases like Enron’s: Before the giant energy company went bankrupt in 2001, ruining the lives of tens of thousands of employees and investors, its vision and values statement was, ‘Respect, integrity, communication and excellence’. Say no more!
While some mission statements consist of one vague statement, others are too long, which may reflect a lack of understanding of what a company does. Still other companies don’t know what differentiates them from their competition.
The mission statement for the pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers reads, ‘To discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.’ Well, you can’t argue with that, but surely this can be said of every drug company. Why would a person buy Bristol-Myers’ products or invest in its stock, rather than its competitors’?
So that’s what not to do. If you need to write a mission statement, I think you should try for something closer to a heraldic motto than a speech. They were often simple because they had to fit across the bottom of a coat of arms, and they were long-lasting because they reflected a group’s deeper values.
When I was a boy, I was fascinated by such mottos. One of my childhood heroes was the pilot Douglas Bader, who lost both his legs in a crash early in his career, but went on to fly fighter planes for the Royal Air Force during WWII.
After seeing the movie Reach for the Sky, which told his story, I remember asking my father about the RAF motto, ‘Per ardua ad astra.’ When he told me that it meant ‘Through adversity to the stars’, I thought the idea of battling one’s way to the stars at all costs was the most inspiring thing I’d ever heard.
Screw it, let’s do it!
A few years later, at Stowe School, I was taught the school’s motto, ‘Persto et praesto‘, which means ‘I stand firm and I stand first’. This motto caused a lot of giggling among our group of adolescent schoolboys, but it was nevertheless excellent for guiding us forward into adult life. Brevity is certainly key, so try using Twitter’s 140-character template when you’re drafting your inspirational message.
You need to explain your company’s purpose and outline expectations for internal and external clients alike. Make it unique to your company, make it memorable, keep it real and, just for fun, imagine it on the bottom of a coat of arms.
If we had to put ours on a coat of arms, Virgin’s would probably say something like, ’Ipsum sine timore, consector’, which very loosely translated means, ‘Screw it, let’s do it!’
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