October 22, 2012 – It’s time that mission statements and vision statements get their just rewards. They are so important to developing strategy and driving execution, yet they are often overlooked as critical elements of the strategic planning model, even though they serve as the bookends for every strategic and operational plan. In short, the mission statement provides the starting point and the vision provides the destination. Without mission statements and vision statements, plans can wander around aimlessly, travelling to a lot of exotic locales, but never actually going anywhere.

In this blog, the first of two parts, we tackle the mission statement as a critical component of your strategic planning framework.

The Mission Statement Provides a Beginning

The mission statement answers the question, “Why do we exist?” It gives the organization purpose and meaning and speaks to why people want to work for your company. It begins to answer the question, what is strategic management and planning. If you’re a for-profit organization, the fundamental mission of the business is to create shareholder wealth, but that won’t attract anyone to come work for you, and it does not give rise to a bigger corporate purpose.

Every organization needs to define its fundamental purpose, philosophy, and values. The mission statement answer the basic questions of why your company exists and describes the needs your company was created to fulfill. This is not about the products and services you provide; rather, it is about why you provide them.

For instance, the mission of my company, AchieveIt, is “to help organizations execute smarter, faster, and better.” To my team, it is about accelerating the results curve. We come to work every day driven by the idea of transforming businesses by helping them get more and better results faster — whether for our own company or for the clients we serve. How we do this is through our software suite and related support services, which are continually being enhanced to drive improved results. But how we accomplish our mission today may be different from how we accomplish it tomorrow. The mission statement points us in the right direction. Our strategic and operational plans become the road map. Without the guidance of our mission statement, programmatic priorities would be difficult to establish and the process of strategic planning would become muddled.

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A mission statement, therefore, provides the basis for judging the success of an organization and its programs. It helps to verify if the organization is on the right track and making the right decisions. It provides direction when the organization must adapt to new demands. Attention to mission helps the organization adhere to its primary purpose and serves as a touchstone for decision-making during times of conflict. With a strong mission statement in place, it is very easy to identify your goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.

A mission statements can also be used as a tool for resource allocation. A powerful mission statement attract staff, donors, volunteers, and community involvement.

Powerful Mission Statements

Consider these powerful mission statements:

  • Harley-Davidson: We fulfill dreams through the experiences of motorcycling.
  • Southwest Airlines: We are dedicated to the highest level of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.
  • MD Anderson Cancer Center: To make cancer history.
  • GoogleTo organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Notice that none of these organizations’ mission statements include anything about what they do; instead, they focus on the core of their existence. It is this core that attracts and retains employees, provides market differentiation, and attracts customers. For instance, Harley-Davidson has an insanely loyal customer base that now includes more than 250 clubs who provide thousands of volunteer hours through the Harley-Davidson Foundation. These are people attracted to Harley-Davidson because they share a common belief that absolute freedom is found on a motorcycle on the open road.

Even if your organization has a succinct, empowering mission statement like Harley-Davidson’s, it should be revisited on a regular basis. If your organization conducts strategic planning, the mission statement should be discussed – and even evaluated – at the beginning of every planning cycle.It is of the utmost importance to keep your strategic planning framework strong and in place. Why? One of the fundamental purposes of strategic planning is to fulfill the mission; revisiting the mission ensures your strategic plan succeeds in that regard. Beyond strategic planning, you should consider revising your mission statement if you answer “no” to any of the follow eight questions:

  1. Is it short (10 words or less) and sharply focused? Would it fit on a t-shirt? A bumper sticker? A billboard?
  2. Do staff, management, and board members know the mission statement? Is it clear and easily understood?
  3. Can you train around it? Does everyone in the organization know exactly how to fulfill the mission every day?
  4. Does it define why you do what you do?
  5. Does it provide direction for doing the right things?
  6. Does it inspire your passion and commitment?
  7. Does it say, in the end, what you want to be remembered for?
  8. Have you revisited your mission statement in the last three years?

To help you develop a powerful mission statement that answers the question, “Why do we exist?”, we offer a white paper entitled, “Mission Statements: A How-To.”

Next week: The importance of vision statements.

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Maria Frantz
Maria Frantz
Maria Frantz is AchieveIt’s VP of Operations, a proud Georgia Tech Grad, and a Master of Statistics. When she’s not building strategic plans you can find Maria painting and haphazardly attempting to learn how to play the violin, guitar, and trumpet.