How to write a mission statement that matters
11 simple suggestions to bring your mission to life
Writing your mission can be one of the most important activities for any organization. But it’s not often easy.
We want to rally people around a common purpose! To give direction and guide effort! To inspire people to join the movement!
Instead we get stuck on writing a Mission Statement™.
The first question to ask is why you need a mission statement. If the answer is “Because every company has one, and I think we probably should, too.” You might want to take a step back.
For everyone else who wants to use a mission to motivate and guide people, we have a few suggestions. Because our mission is to work with organizations to build inspiring messages like this. And if you need a little more help, just ask.
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1. Write your first draft with your heart
Simon Sinek has good advice: Start with why. Why does your organization exist? How are you making the world a better place? What do you love about your culture? Or want to change?
As you consider the language in your mission, think in stories, not facts. Soul, not data.
And please. Forget about what a mission statement is supposed to sound like. In fact, just forget the word “statement.” It puts you in the wrong frame of mind. Just imagine you need to explain to a big audience why anyone in your company should give a damn about what you do.
2. The more you write, the less you say
Paradox, isn’t it. Every word you add takes away from the others. When we work with organizations to help them write their mission, we try to have them defend every word.
Because while company executives may care intimately about the difference between two words like “grow” and “expand” and want to include both—most readers won’t appreciate the nuance. Or remember why it matters. So the overall message suffers. One plus one does not always equal two.
It’s probably more like 1.4.
One client used this is a standard when developing their mission: It had to be short enough that they could write it on the wall in their headquarters. Basically, simple and bold. It had to be a mission, not a manifesto. So we could keep asking that question to keep the message in check: “How will this read when it’s written on the wall?”
3. It’s not what you write, it’s what people remember
Keep language simple and clear. Use short sentences because they sound confident. Use small words to say big things. If you do use a big word, make it a really important big word. And don’t surround it with lots of other big words.
You want to use language that creates a picture in the mind. Look for ideas that spark imagination.
4. Modularity helps memorability
Break down concepts into simpler chunks. Most people won’t remember full sentences or a lot of text, but they can remember two or three key words or phrases.
How you format your mission may also help people remember. At New Kind, our purpose is split into three parts, and we typeset the phrase in three lines to emphasize those key ideas:
5. Don’t waste words on table stakes
Every business wants to grow revenue, serve customers, and be the leading provider of something. That’s all great. Words like “excellence,” “surprising and delighting,” and my favorite “meeting needs”—those are table stakes. Assume people already care about the fundamentals every company needs to be in business. (If they don’t, you have other problems.) Instead focus on what makes your business and culture special.
If the same mission could be used for any other company, dig a little deeper.
This is a chance to guide and inspire people. Make them want to rise up and join the movement.
6. It’s better to be compelling than complete
Here’s where most organizations run into trouble. They feel like they need to say everything. So they start listing. Products, services, markets, customers, etc.
Resist the comma!
When a company has multiple lists in their mission, it’s often a sign that they’re more concerned about inclusion than inspiration.
As the mission cycles through your internal review process, your draft will need more protection. Nothing sucks life out of a mission faster than death by a thousand edits. We’ve seen many cases where companies accept additional words to make a few people happy—until the point that it makes no one happy.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t circulate drafts of your mission and get feedback. Make the process open! But just know that while every person should be heard, not every edit should be made.
No one phrase will please everyone at first—and it’s always easier for people to say what’s wrong with something. Sometimes “I don’t like it” means “It’s new and different and surprising and I’m not sure how I feel yet.”
So take their feedback. Sincerely hear their advice. But you have to be the advocate for simple language that communicates the most pure and novel idea possible. Whether it’s a mission, a new company name, or a new brand identity—for it to feel right, it needs to be familiar. Familiarity is simply repeated exposure over time. So make sure you’re giving your new mission time so people can grow comfortable with it before they try to kill it or change it.
7. A mission should be motivating
This isn’t a legal document. It’s not the boilerplate paragraph for the bottom of your press releases. This is a chance to guide and inspire people. Make them want to rise up and join the movement. Or maybe start one.
You don’t have to be a non-profit to have a cause. What truly inspires you about what you do? How do you make people’s lives better? If you grew the business to be a massive success, how would the world change?
8. A mission should define your purpose, your vision defines your direction
Use your mission to focus the organization’s attention and remind them what matters. To help people understand what you do, and provide clues about what you don’t.
Sometimes organizations use mission and vision interchangeably. But I see vision as a destination. It’s forward looking—showing what the outcome will be when you’re successful. Of the two, a vision is more likely to change because technology changes and the world evolves. While a mission has an ongoing timelessness to it. It’s why your organization began, and what continues to drive you forward.
One of our clients, ChannelAdvisor, has a great mission:
To connect and optimize the world’s commerce
It’s simple, bold—speaks to what they do, and the scope at which they do it.
9. If it sounds like a mission statement, it might be time to rewrite
Unless your company’s mission is to be just like everybody else, you don’t want to write a mission statement that sounds just like everyone else’s mission statement.
Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to get an outside perspective. (hint: Contact button below. Let us know how we can help.)
10. Here’s one easy formula to get you started
If there is a simple formula for a mission statement, it would probably go like this:
We do [role]
for [people we serve]
11. But why not be different? Be bold!
A mission that breaks conventions is more compelling than a statement that checks a box. If your company is about innovating, wouldn’t the mission be a great place to start?
A powerful mission is bold, memorable, and inspiring. Which is why you want to have one in the first place.
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An effective mission statement has the power to inspire teams, drive strategy, and transform entire organizations. Creating one of your own can be daunting, we know. Hopefully this handy guide gives you a good start. Gave it a go and still stumped? Give us a shout and let’s see how the team at New Kind can help you with your mission statement project—and check out the What We Do page for more information on our entire brand and culture consulting offerings.