How to Write a Mission Statement that Works

Have you been there? Staring at a mission statement that’s bloated, messy and utterly ignorable? I know I have. I’ve worked for several organizations that saw their mission statement, not as a guiding principle, but as a catch-all where everything they wanted to say was said. These mission statements are usually a paragraph or so long and they use every popular catch-phrase. I wonder if some future archaeologist will be able to date mission statements by the lingo (see, this one uses ‘synergy’ and this one says ‘paradigm shift’ instead of ‘quantum leap’). 

Most mission statements don’t work. They took hours or days out of the life of an organization, and in the end they gave almost nothing back. But, with some effort, you can write a mission statement that will actually help you.

Learn to Say ‘No’

A really good mission statement gives you a way to say ‘no’ to good opportunities (yes, you really do want to turn down good opportunities sometimes). One time I worked with a church, they’re mission statement: “We’re on a mission from God.” You might recognize it from the movie The Blues Brothers. It’s funny, but it’s not particularly helpful in determining what the organization does or doesn’t do. It doesn’t give any direction. It doesn’t give them a chance to say ‘no.’

By contrast, I worked for Starbucks Coffee Company while I was in school. Their mission statement: “To provide an uplifting experience that enriches people’s daily lives.” So, for everything that we did during a shift at work we could ask ourselves if we were fulfilling the mission statement. For most things we could get a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. While it was totally on mission to smile, joke and remember customer names, I could rule out starting a health clinic in our lobby. Though it’s a good thing, it’s not a part of the mission. If your mission is to provide amazing plumbing services, you should turn down a chance to buy a restaurant, even if it’s a good deal. If your mission is to train marathon runners, you should turn down a chance to design websites.

If you can’t say ‘no’ then you’ll be pulled in a thousand different directions and it’ll be almost impossible to make progress. But, if you have a mission statement that lets you say ‘no’ when you need to, you’ll be able to say ‘yes’ when it’s the right opportunity. 

Make it Specific

If your mission statement is so vague that any organization in the world could adopt it, then it doesn’t do you much good. A mission statement should tell you why you’re unique in the world. When you know your raison d’