Voted #6 on Top 100 Family Business Influencers, most influential expert on Wealth, Finance and Investments: Jacoline Loewen LinkedIn Profile

March 28, 2010

Why Mission Statements can miss so badly

I want to show you quickly how to avoid writing a weak Mission Statement. Too many of them are so look-alike which is what makes them OK but not likely to attract the talent you want or give a potential client an impressive snapshot of what you company actually does.
Let's say you have a business you started at the kitchen table making bread and it has now grown into a growing concern with employees, a proper office, professional kitchen and --the big dream that makes you breathless--Lablaws as a client. You may decide your mission statement could go like this: "We aim to delight the families of Ontario with our awesome bread inspired by true Italian baking." That's not bad and your employees could get enthusiastic about it. Now here's where things go bad.
You gather your team and Board around the table to get their input on the wording. Captain Picard always made this gathering of the team look easy but it never turns out that way. Your team, who you think is better than sliced bread, turn into your eighth grade English teacher - you know, the one who nitpicked over every word you wrote. Suddenly, even the finance people have a opinion and are piping up to let you know their view:
"We should not limit ourselves to Ontario and by the way, I don't like the word delight. It seems flaky and frilly, way too girly." 
Thanks, Pierre.
"And saying 'families' may offend, what about people who live by themselves or who are divorced? That could upset them." Indeed. They could run crying from the room at reruns of the Cosby Show too, but point taken. 
As you go around the room, the babble of voices gets higher and higher.
"Why limit ourselves to Italian?" 
"It's weird but when I see the word "Awesome", I think of my kids. It's such an overused word. Isn't the main feature our freshness--we should say fresh, not awesome."
"But everyone expects freshness. It should be crusty or light--our crusty, fluffy bread."
"Hang on! Why limit ourselves to bread? We are doing rolls too. In fact, our rolls are moving up to fast selling category."
"Good point--we don't want to limit ourselves to bread. What if we move into frozen dough or pizza? We've also been toying with  flat breads. That's a very attractive business."
"Let's sum it up - what are we doing? We are providing a solution. A family eating solution."
"Hey, didn't you hear what I said about families? But solutions is exactly what we offer. Make it solutions."
Then Winnie says, "What about green? We are an environmentally aware company?"
"And we care for our employees."
"We really care."
How can you argue against hugging your employees, trying to respect the environment and having amazing values? So, there you go. It's added into the statement. There you have it: solutions for mealtimes and we care for our employees very much and also the environemnt. We are very green.
Maybe the team is happy but you know it is trying to be too many things to too many people.
Better keep your statement simple, you can put the list of values into a whole separate statement. That will help you avoid the trap here--getting so vague and fancy with the language that it just becomes meaningless. Here are 2 ways to avoid it:
1. Use concrete language. 
My favorite Mission Statement is done by Spin Master. Their vision is to be the world's most innovative, most fun children's entertainment company. There's their big, bold vision that has driven them from zero to $900 million dollars in just fifteen years. They take all the rest of the details and put it under values. Spin Master values - entrepreneural spirit, ideas (no matter where they come from), integrity (always, no fooling).
Wow. It gives you a picture of what they do and tells you why it's worth doing AND, after reading that, I want to work there.
2. 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." That is very clear about their priorities.
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: keep it real.
Jacoline Loewen, author Money Magnet, attract private equity to your business. Get in touch to talk about your Mission Statement.
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