Dan Heath from FastCompany.com writes: I want to show you why most mission statements are so terrible.
Let's say you founded a pizza parlor. And your first idea for a mission
statement is something like this: "Our mission is to serve the tastiest
damn pizza in Wake County." That's pretty good. If I worked for you, I
could get excited about that. Now here's how it will go off the rails.
So you'll call your colleagues around the conference room table to
unveil the mission, and all of the sudden, these people that you like
and respect are going to transform into 10th-grade English teachers,
nitpicking every word. Everybody starts chiming in with opinions: "Hey,
I really like the word 'present' better than 'serve,' it has a nice
resonance." And someone else will say, "Well, we obviously can't say
'damn,' that's just offensive." And so it begins. And as you go around
the table, your mission statement will be pecked to death.
can't limit ourselves to Wake County--and also, it's not just tasty
pizza right, it's about freshness--we should say "high quality" not
Isn't it weird that we mention pizza but not our great
salads and calzones? What if we changed it to "highest-quality Italian
That's good but even "Italian" seems limiting--what if we decide to move into gyros?
the phone, people, we haven't even mentioned the great family
atmosphere--the coloring books and big comfy booths and all that.
Great point--you know what we're really doing here, at the end of the day? We're providing a family "entertainment solution!"
[Dan] Everyone's excited now. You're almost there. And then Steve at the end of the table pipes up ...
Listen, guys, we haven't mentioned anything about integrity. That's
what it's all about, at the end of the day. Integrity.
is anyone at the table gonna go to the mat against including
"integrity?" Nope. So it's in. And presto--there's your new mission
"Our mission is to present with integrity the highest-quality entertainment solutions to families."
That's what 99% of the world's mission statements sound like, and I
think you see the trap here--getting so vague and fancy with the
language that it just becomes meaningless. Here are 2 ways to avoid it:
Dan's example of a great mission statement.
Use concrete language. Check out this mission statement from
SonicBids, a fast-growing small business: "We want to help musicians
get gigs, and promoters book the right bands. ... We're a bunch of
people who think that music can truly change the world and make it
smaller and better. ... We believe that independent music belongs
everywhere: on festival stages; in video game consoles; on film
screens; in college theaters; on the radio; in advertisements; on club
stages and at sporting events." Wow. It gives you a picture of what
they do and tells you why it's worth doing.
Talk about the why. Most mission statements are all statement and no
mission. The whole point is to say why you're doing what you're doing.
What makes you care? Look at the start of Johnson & Johson's famous
credo: "Our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, and
patients, mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and
services." Well, okay, that's worth getting out of bed for. Compare
that with ExxonMobil's. Did you feel that? A little part of your soul
just died, reading that.
So you've seen why bad mission statements happen and two tips for
making yours different. At our home Web site, I've put together some
other resources for you to check out, if you're interested. And in the
meantime, let me challenge you to do the impossible: Write a mission
statement that means something. And I'll give you a hint: If it
contains the word "solution," you're not there yet. Thanks for watching.
For More on this topic: Download this document Chip and I developed: "5 Tips for a Sticky Strategic Vision." Here's a funny and illuminating review
of a book on Mission Statements. My opinion is that most organizations
would benefit more from setting a clear, ambitious goal than from
crafting the perfect mission statement. On that front, check out
Collins and Porras's work on setting a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious
Goal)--here's the original piece (for free) and a helpful overview with lots of examples. (Bonus: here are some audio resources from the guru Jim Collins himself.) And, for inspiration: The J&J Credo.
(Many observers credit the Credo with helping to shape J&J's
admirable response to the Tylenol-poisoning crisis in the 1980s.)