A Quick Recap: What is a Mission Statement?
Mission statements are foundational in any strategic planning effort. A mission statement, by definition, boldly states your organization’s core purpose. It answers the question, “Why do we exist?”. Your mission needs to clearly articulate why you exist as an organization, why your organization is special, what you do, and whom you do it for.
How should your mission statement look and sound? We always recommend mission statements be written with concrete language and in the present tense!
Notice that this is different from your vision statement, which is written in the future tense because it projects where you are headed. Your mission statement is written in the present tense because it is there to define your reason for existing, here and now.
Solid language leaves little room for interpretation of what exactly your mission statement means. Employees struggle to be inspired by abstract and fluffy mission statements. You want your mission statement to be pragmatic and crystal clear so that your goals and objectives will have a strategic direction.
How to Know if It’s Time to Re-Write Your Mission
Mission statements are traditionally the longest-standing element of an organization’s strategic plan. They typically have a “shelf life” of 10-15 years, although that is not always the case.
That said, mission statements aren’t written in stone. They do need to be re-examined and refined, especially if your organization faces a massive shift or changes its core purpose!
If you’re wondering if your current mission statement needs to be refreshed, ask yourself the following questions.
Does your mission statement…
- Explain how the organization will serve its customers?
- Fit the current market environment?
- Convey your core competencies (company strengths)?
- Motivate and inspire employee commitment?
- Convey a realistic outcome?
- Articulate a specific, short, sharply focused, and memorable outcome?
- Lend itself to being easily understood by prospective customers or employees?
- Share a unique reason for being (such that it can’t be used by a competitor)?
- Define the space in which your organization plays or contributes?
If you find yourself unable to answer “yes” confidently to more than four of these questions, it’s time to refresh your mission statement! Need help? Check out the free mission statement guide here!
Missions are best developed after you complete a SWOT, but before the rest of your planning process. As you move forward in your planning, you want your organization to be aligned and grounded in the purpose you have set.
How to Write a Mission Statement
We know that writing mission statements can be a time-consuming and strenuous exercise. We understand you don’t want to spend hours upon hours writing a mission statement, so follow these steps to help draft a mission statement that inspires and focuses your organization:
Step 1: Answer the Questions “Why Do We Exist?” and “What’s Our Core Purpose?”
Try completing this statement to begin drafting your mission statement:
“The reason _______ (insert the name of your organization) exists is…”
Here are a few tips for completing your mission statement. We recommend that your mission statement conveys at least one of the following:
Who you do it for
Hint: This should be bigger than your organization. Who are your customers, your audience, the people who will or could benefit from what you have to offer?
A clear benefit
Hint: The benefit is not only to create revenue. What is the value that you bring to those you reach?
What you do
Hint: Use action verbs!
Step 2: Use this Mission Statement Template to Draft Your Mission
Once you’ve identified the reason your organization exists, it’s time to make that statement more concrete. You can do this by following this template, which breaks down the elements of a great mission statement.
- Label: We like to start with “Our mission…” This helps to clearly identify your mission statement, both for those within your organization as well as for others.
- Verb: Use an action verb in the present tense. Again, this kind of concrete, present-tense language makes the mission statement functional and effective.
- For Whom: Describe whom you do it for. Who is affected by your organization’s work and reason for existing?
- Result: What is the result or benefit from your work? What value do you contribute to the audience identified in the previous element?
- What You Do: Briefly state what you do and how. Remember that this should be unique and original enough to not be able to describe a competitor.
Don’t write your mission as a group! Have a copywriter write a few versions. Once you have 1-3 drafts, move on to step 3.
Step 3: Ensure Your Draft Completes the Following Checklist
When you finish a draft of your mission statement, how do you know it’s ready to be used? Use this checklist to evaluate your statement-in-progress and adjust/edit until it satisfactorily fulfills these criteria for you.
- Your mission must be foundational: What does this mean? As we’ve stated before, although the mission statement isn’t written in stone and can be subject to refinement, you don’t want to be returning to this all the time. You want a mission statement that can stand the test of time, providing purpose and direction for your organization and strategy.
- Your mission statement must be original: You don’t want your mission statement to sound like it could fit a competitor or another organization in your industry just as well as you. This statement defines your reason for existing, the reason your organization is in the game. What makes you special? What makes it special to work for you?
- Your mission statement must be memorable: It is difficult for your mission statement to motivate employees, prospective employees, or customers if they can’t remember it. Your mission statement should connect to everyone in your organization so that they can identify their roles (broadly) within it. Therefore, it needs to be memorable.
- Your mission statement must be able to fit on a t-shirt: This is one way to ensure that the statement is memorable and inspiring. If your mission is short enough to fit on a shirt—but also compelling enough that your employees would be willing to wear that shirt—then you know you’ve found the sweet spot.
Step 4: Answer the Question, “Why Does that Matter?”
One way to help you revise a drafted mission statement, especially if you’re struggling to keep it concise and potent, is to frequently ask yourself, “Why does that matter?”
As you evaluate each element of the mission statement, cut any element that doesn’t have a satisfactory answer to this question. In so doing, you can distill your mission statement until it meets the criteria listed above, truly and boldly stating your organization’s core purpose (and nothing more).
Step 5: Roll Out to Your Team and/or Host a Vote
Getting input from your team can help them feel more invested in your mission statement and, therefore, more motivated by it. In addition to potentially seeking input (through surveys or focus groups, for example) in the drafting stage, you can use staff input to help you decide between multiple “final” drafts. If you have more than one draft mission statement that you like, send it out for a vote.
On the other hand, if your mission statement is chosen and ready, now your focus turns to determine the best ways to communicate this mission to your organization. Remember, you want each staff member to know and feel that their purpose is defined by this mission statement.
Good luck! Happy writing!