By: Garnet Brooks, Halifax Business Lawyer
Simon Sinek, one of my favorite thought leaders, said, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” (book reference, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”).
Mission statements are to a business, what a flag is to a country; and like a flag, a mission statement serves many purposes:
A Mission Statement is:
• a symbol;
• a rallying cry;
• a representation of what the organization stands for;
• a buffer from the influence of others;
… and at its very best, it’s a bond that unites all members of an organization in the pursuit of a common goal.
When you think about that for a moment and really let it sink in (go ahead and read it again), it’s something quite profound. Except when it’s not, or if it doesn’t exist, or exists but no one knows what it is, or believes in it… You get the picture. Just having one isn’t the answer (*Remember what Seth Godin said about being remarkable in this blog post – Click Here (new window)).
In reality, a mission statement serves the same purpose as well executed marketing campaign, to influence. However, unlike a traditional marketing campaign whose goal is to influence those outside the organization, a mission statement’s purpose is to influence those within an organization. It is literally an internal form of marketing.
The trick for companies and organizations though is to create a “pull” for the mission and not a “push.” Employees and staff need to feel inspired by the mission so they’ll live and breathe it every day. Try and
force a mission statement on employees when they aren’t fully invested and they will be resentful at the very least. A properly written mission creates a natural desire for an employee to follow. It doesn’t harang, it doesn’t cajole, and it doesn’t bully. What it does, though, is attract. Like a beacon it sends out its signal, and if all is well organizationally, staff and employees will be drawn to it and drawn to promote it.
Like flags, mission statements come in all shapes, sizes and designs. Some companies have created wonderful missions that speak volumes about what they do and why they do it. Others, quite frankly, have failed miserably.
Here are some examples of winners and offenders:
• TED: Spreading Ideas.
• Smithsonian: The increase and diffusion of knowledge.
• Google – Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
• Livestrong: To inspire and empower people affected by cancer.
• Oxfam: To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice.
• Save the Children: To inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.
• Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) works in nearly 70 countries providing medical aid to those most in need regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation.
These missions showcase exactly what each organization does and does so in a very inspiring way. You can’t help but be drawn in by them. They’re simple, direct and offer a clear message.
Simple – Brief – Memorable
You see the organization, then the mission, and you can square the two – they fit.
• The Hershey Company (Old) – Undisputed marketplace leadership.
• Coca-Cola – Our vision serves as the framework for our Roadmap and guides every aspect of our business by describing what we need to accomplish in order to continue achieving sustainable, quality growth.
• Playboy – To maintain Playboy enterprise with many windows of opportunity to expand the Playboy franchise and develop other related entertainment franchise globally by leveraging Playboy’s strengths of publishing, brand management, and marketing.
• Volvo – By creating value for our customers, we create value for our shareholders. We use our expertise to create transport-related products and services of superior quality, safety and environmental care for demanding customers in selected segments. We work with energy, passion and respect for the individual.
• Starbucks – Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow. The following six guiding principles will help us measure the appropriateness of our decisions:
– Provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity.
– Embrace diversity as an essential component in the way we do business.
– Apply the highest standards of excellence to the purchasing, roasting and fresh delivery of our coffee.
– Develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.
– Contribute positively to our communities and our environment.
– Recognize that profitability is essential to our future success.
Hmmmm? Is this what million dollar budgets come up with?
Hershey’s is boring, vague and irrelevant. You’d never guess what they manufacture from their mission. Tires? Facecloths? Missiles? There’s not even a mention of the joy, the taste, the memories created by their chocolate (which I for one quite enjoy!)
Like Hershey’s, Coke gives the reader little clue as to what they do or why they do it. It’s just full of corporate speak. I would be pleasantly surprised if any Coke executive could recite the mission statement verbatim (which you should be able to do for your own).
Playboy’s is unreadable (a lawyer must have written it :)). Should be easy to improve on this. For such an iconic entertainment brand you’d think they would be better at writing mission statement (especially given their focus on writing evident in the fact that so many “just buy the publication for its articles”).
Volvo’s is rambling, which is a shame for such a quality car maker. People already know what Volvo does, they make safe cars. That’s what they’re known for. Why not just say something like, ‘Our mission is to make the world’s safest cars even safer for your family and ours.” It’s simple, to the point, and hits at the heart of what they’re about.
Finally, Starbuck’s just provides too much information. The barrista who’s serving her 32nd coffee of the morning would never maintain such a mission front and center in her mind. Why not just strike a cord with the organization, staff and customers with something like, “The best employees, brewing the best coffee, for the best customers.” At least it’s meaningful.
Now, what do, can should,, YOU, the entrepreneur do?
As you can see, mission statements walk a fine line of inspiring and falling flat. The trick to a great mission then is to promote big ideas with simple, clear and concise language. The five previous “good” examples all do this, plus, they do it succinctly.
So if you think your mission falls into the latter “bad” category, what can you do? Here are some great tips from Entrpreneur.com to get you out of your mission statement funk:
• Collaborate – Come up with your mission as a staff and everyone has ownership. Employees that have ownership will do anything for their company.
• Plan – Set a time and a date to work on this project. Set the expectation that this time and this day are for the mission and that the entire staff must attend.
• Prepare – Ask all involved to come with examples and ideas. This is where you can really get your employees involved. Look at every idea, no matter how junior the employee. Their ideas may not be used, but they will appreciate that the time was taken to look at their input.
• Brainstorm – Ideas, ideas, ideas. Delve into every conceivable angle of your business and write it down. Just create a free flow of thoughts. Nothing is too ridiculous. Ask questions like:
• Why are we in business?”
• Who are our customer’s?”
• What is our philosophy?”
Preferably ask these of your team members a few days before so they can think about things.
Thesaurus – Always have a thesaurus on hand. Use great words, like marvelous rather than great.
Getting the language right is key. Make sure it’s relevant to your business, but the right words can make all the difference.
Go Slow – This isn’t a race. Take as much uninterrupted quality time as needed. If things are rushed the process will suffer and so will the results.
Mission statements are a representation of your company. Take the time to do it right. After all, isn’t your company worth the effort?
In closing, if any doubt remains about why you should place value on inspiring your team, have a read of these additional, short Simon Sinek (love his material) quotes from “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”:
• “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”
• “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.”
• “A leader must be inspired by the people before a leader can inspire the people.”
I hope you like this blog post & thanks for reading!