I’ve spent years diving deep into the trenches with organizations large and small. And since I started advising companies and leaders, I’m always surprised to learn how long organizations go without having a clear and purposeful mission statement.
The reality is most companies write their mission statement down on a piece of paper that eventually collects dust. And if you don’t invest the time to dig deep into the roots of your organization, you’ll never know what truly feeds it. You may wander or flounder. Or worse yet, you may let someone else define your purpose and mission for you.
Your mission statement will grow and evolve over time. It’s supposed to. It will be tested and challenged. But making the commitment to invest in it will compel your team to have a more meaningful sense of passion and excitement for what’s to come.
Here are a few signs your organization’s mission statement may need some fine-tuning:
- There’s no North Star: Without a North Star, your organization has nothing pointing it in a purposeful and meaningful direction. Your company’s North Star is essentially your ‘Why,’ which Simon Sinek suggests is the most transformational meaning behind your organization’s purpose and passion. It’s important the organization understands why it exists and why it matters to those it’s going to serve. Not only do you risk misinterpreting your organization’s purpose, you also risk lower performance within your team when they have no meaningful purpose to guide why they do what they do.
- It’s unclear – A mission statement needs to be two things — aspirational and clear. You will know your mission statement is strong when it can stand the test of time for 10 or more years. Walmart’s mission statement, ‘to save people money so they can live better, was established in 1992 when Sam Walton was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This statement is less than 10 words and has lasted for nearly three decades.
- Initiative overload – I once had a client who had hundreds of objectives tied to their overall mission. They thought deeply about every important thing they could possibly achieve and listed every item as part of their strategic plan. Initiative overload causes chaos and a lack of clarity, which is why spreading your organization thin will have negative effects. The magic happens when your organization picks a very few clear initiatives that they can go a mile deep into delivering with excellence.
- No benchmarks – When you don’t have a clear mission statement, you risk losing your competitive agility. It’s easy to fall prey to a mentality that you’re the best in your space and no other organization can beat yours. Wrong! When you find yourself only looking up to your own achievements you become unaware of other organizations who are improving and serving part of your customer base; and doing it well. You can always learn from their strategies and execution and apply it to your own. During my time at Walmart, we would make every effort to understand other store models and how they served their customers. It didn’t matter that we were a Fortune 1 company and they were not – we always prioritized knowing our competition better than anyone else. This requires a mindset shift within your entire organization that will ensure you are constantly looking to learn and improve. Being “paranoid” is a trait that can help you harness your competitive edge.
Crafting a purposeful mission statement is not a ‘one and done’ exercise. Instead, it’s an ongoing process that builds equity over time. More importantly, when you’ve done the work of putting real thought into your mission statement, it will reignite a new sense passion that will motivate a true connection with your people and how they bring their gifts to deliver your mission.
If you find this content valuable, be sure to read my book, Gracious and Strong, where I unpack a model for how to craft a purpose-driven mission statement.