A meandering mission statement won’t inspire your team. If you want your employees to rally around your brand, give them something they can believe in.
Mission statements are regarded with skepticism in this industry. Mission statements – defined as a short answer to the question, “Why does this company exist?” – are often met with eye rolling and quickly dismissed as hollow and unimportant. Creating a vapid, overstuffed mission statement is a mistake, and it’s one that can be avoided with thought and careful crafting.
Effective mission statements give staff at all levels something to rally around in support of a larger purpose. This not only creates a happier workplace culture, with staff aligned on a common set of core values and goals, but also drives brand value.
Employees who feel this sense of meaning in their job are more likely to be resilient in the face of change and temporary struggles, and to join forces rather than splintering under the weight of adversity. Although staff of every generation appreciate doing work that has meaning, we often hear that millennials, especially, need to understand the purpose, or the “why” to feel connected with their company. It should come as no surprise that one of the firms we work with – one that has an exceptionally purposeful mission statement – recently told us that they have absolutely no trouble attracting and retaining young talent. That alone is a good reason to revisit and polish your mission statement!
We see many mission statements as part of our strategic planning engagements, and we’ve learned a thing or two. Good mission statements tend to have the following characteristics:
- They are simple and effective. Too many words, and no one can remember it, let alone abide by it. Say as much as you can in as few words as possible. An example is one by furniture maker IKEA: “To create a better everyday life, for the many people.”
- They are both lofty and grounded. It needs to have an elevated sense of purpose, but something that is true to what your firm cares about most. A/E Architects, a Montana-based firm with an extensive resume in historic preservation, adopted a mission statement that includes the phrase (and graphic representation), “Rooted in tradition.” An additional requirement is that they are free of buzzwords.
- They’re about more than the money. Although there’s nothing wrong with a business-focused mission, keep in mind that this only differentiates you from non-profit organizations. Some companies, like TOMS shoes, have effectively linked the business to the mission, and have done so with direct language: “At TOMS, we believe we can improve people’s lives through business.” And then there’s Texas-based BIG RED DOG Engineering|Consulting, whose mission statement ties together the company’s business and its culture: “We help our clients be more successful as we make the engineering business cool.”
- They reflect the firm’s founding team and are capable of attracting individuals with similar values. A core set of values can help create a cohesive team but can also draw others with congruent principles to your firm without much “selling” to get them there. This can apply to clients and potential recruits.
- They are inclusive. Probably the most common area where firms go wrong with mission statements is that they narrowly describe what the firm is and what they sell: “Engineers offering a variety of cost-effective, innovative solutions.” Your firm needs more than engineers to thrive – you need marketers, finance folks, and strategic thought leaders who may or may not be engineers. Additionally, if your firm expands to include, say, survey, or landscape architecture, how do these folks fit in under a tight mission statement? Included in JDavis Architects’ list of values is this: “We are dedicated niche experts and exceptional listeners.” Everyone in the firm and every stakeholder outside the firm can connect to this simple, yet meaningful phrase.
A carefully crafted mission statement can serve as a decision-making guidepost; a statement against which to measure strategic options and courses of action. With a simple, strong statement, a firm can hone their focus and unite the team.
Jamie Claire Kiser is Zweig Group’s director of consulting. Contact her at email@example.com.