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How To Write a Mission Statement

Posted by ptheibert on July 7, 2014 at 11:40 AM

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Write a Purpose Statement, - Not a Mission Statement

Your Employees Need a Sense of Purpose

In a previous article we discussed the Problem of the Commons. Simply stated if there is no sense of obligation to a larger entity, be it a company, or a state, or a nation, why shouldn't every man be in it for himself.

The classic example was the buffalo herds. There was no one "in charge" of the buffalo herds and every man shot as many buffalo as he could. After all, the more buffalo I shoot, the more money I make selling hides. There was no sense of obligation to preserve the buffalo, there was no greater purpose, the only objective was to make money.

Whoops, we almost bypassed an important word. Purpose. Buffalo hunting was merely a money making game with no sense of a higher purpose.

That brings us to the gist of this article. If you want your company to succeed, you must establish a sense of loyalty and purpose in your employees. They must have a purpose they are working for. And that will lead us to mission statements, eventually.

But let's talk about purpose. Let's say you are a tree chopper and the first day your boss tells you to go out and cut ten trees. You do that and the boss is so pleased that the next day he asks you to cut down 12 trees. You take your handy little ax, stroll out to the forest and chop down 12 trees. Well this continues, and at the end of the month, the boss has you chopping down 20 trees a day.

But you are dissatisfied, as you realize this could go on forever. The boss can keep raising the number of trees you chop down, until one day you lay down exhausted and just can't chop down any more trees. Heck, then he will replace you and get some one younger and stronger to chop down trees.

The boss has given you no purpose for chopping down trees. He didn't inspire you by saying how the trees you chopped down helped make homes for people or even a simple wooden deck where friends and family could gather. That would at least given you a sense of purpose. A reason to keep cutting down trees.

And while the boss had you chop down trees, you were feeling used. When you were worn out, why wouldn't he cast you aside? He didn't show his loyalty by offering vacations, benefits, bonuses.

And the boss had violated a basic tenet of bossdom. Whenever two or more employees are gathered, tell them, and keep telling them the purpose of their work. Stress the higher goal you, as a team, are all working for.

This all can be quickly encapsulated by the classic story of brick layers.

A gentleman saw three men laying bricks..He approached the first and asked, "What are you doing?"

Annoyed, the first man answered, "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm laying bricks!"

He walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question.

The second man responded, "Oh, I'm making a living."

He asked the third bricklayer the same question, "What are you doing?"

The third looked up, smiled and said, "I'm building a cathedral.

The third had a sense of purpose.

Okay , I apologize for that old story. But it does finally leads us to the importance of mission statements. Do not think of them as mission statements. They are really purpose statements and are designed to let employees and customers know why your company exists Of course the obvious answer is "to make money", but as we saw with our tree-chopping story, that answer will rarely inspire employees or give them a "sense of purpose", a higher calling if you will.

So I repeat, your mission statement is really your purpose statement.

Consider this rather lengthy mission statement from Starbucks:

To inspire and nurture the human spirit- one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. Here are the principles of how we live that every day:

Our Coffee

It has always been, and will always be, about quality. We're passionate about ethically sourcing the finest coffee beans, roasting them with great care, and improving the lives of people who grow them. We care deeply about all of this; our work is never done.

Our Partners

We're called partners, because it's not just a job, it's our passion. Together, we embrace diversity to create a place where each of us can be ourselves. We always treat each other with respect and dignity. And we hold each other to that standard.

Our Customers

When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers- even if just for a few moments. Sure, it starts with the promise of a perfectly made beverage, but our work goes far beyond that. It's really about human connection.

Our Stores

When our customers feel this sense of belonging, our stores become a haven, a break from the worries outside, a place where you can meet with friends. It's about enjoyment at the speed of life-sometimes slow and savored, sometimes faster. Always full of humanity.

Our Neighborhood

Every store is part of a community, and we take our responsibility to be good neighbors seriously. We want to be invited in wherever we do business. We can be a force for positive action- bringing together our partners, customers, and the community to contribute every day. Now we see that our responsibility-and our potential for good-is even larger. The world is looking to Starbucks to set the new standard, yet again. We will lead.

Our Shareholders

We know that as we deliver in each of these areas, we enjoy the kind of success that rewards our shareholders. We are fully accountable to get each of these elements right so that Starbucks-and everyone it touches-can endure and thrive.

Onward.

Okay , some of that may sound like nonsense to you. But you have to admire what Starbucks is trying to accomplish with that mission statement. Above all, they are trying to tell their employees, customers and communities why they exist. The PURPOSE behind Starbucks, And if employees buy into that purpose, they won't see Starbucks as a commons, where they grab what they want and leave. They see themselves as part of a community effort, striving towards some basic, worthwhile goals.

Let's take a quick gander at McDonald's mission statement:

"McDonald's vision is to be the world's best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness, and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile."

Okay - again note the sense of purpose embedded in that mission statement. To make every customer smile.

Finally State Farm sells insurance. And I have been meaning to talk to my agent about my high premiums. But to an employee, State Farm makes it clear that they exist for a purpose higher than selling insurance. Again note the sense of purpose embedded in the mission statement:

State Farm: "To educate and build relationships with our current and future customers. To establish and preserve our neighborhoods and schools, and to demonstrate the good neighbor philosophy through our education and safety programs, volunteer efforts and our alliances with many diverse communities."

Okay, let's wrap this baby up.

You always want to avoid "The Problems of the Commons" in your company, where every employee, much like a buffalo hunter, is in it for themselves. To imbue a sense of belonging and teamwork in employees, you must take their work out of the mundane world of hourly labor and imbue it with a sense of purpose. And you must communicate that sense of purpose to employees "when and wherever two or more are gathered."

That sense of purpose must be crystallized in a mission statement. View a mission statement more as a "purpose statement" stating the higher reasons your company exists.

 

 

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