Every company needs a mission statement

Set the tone for your business


“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.” —George Harrison

Every company needs a mission statement, including yours. It defines who you are as a company, sets the mood, articulates the corporate culture, and helps perpetuate your preferred work methods. 

In short, it serves as a guide on the long road to success.

For your organization to have a mission statement, it must have a mission. One that the boss probably has buried in the back of his or her mind; one the employees may or may not share.

It should be written down. Writing a formal statement doesn’t just voice this unspoken mission, it endorses it as company policy.

The mission statement demonstrates leadership and helps to inspire employees. If the employees live by their boss’ guiding principles, they don’t have to run to the rulebook every time they make a decision. They simply look at the placard on the wall to remind them what their boss would have them do. (This can also avoid a lot of annoying meetings).

Mission statements are popular among large companies. Most Fortune 500 firms use them, and according to Bain & Co., they’re more widely used than most other management tools.

Why? Because the cost is small and they work.

But a mission statement is especially necessary for a smaller company. It forces management to think strategically, which is too often overlooked amid the day-to-day crises facing most small business owners. A mission statement inspires employees to follow the guiding principles endorsed by their leader. It can even serve as a sales tool when used to reinforce a key product benefit.

Some are as folksy as the founder. In 1926, I.J. Cooper expressed his Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. creed as “Good merchandise, fair play and a square deal.”

Banc One Corp. used the words of its chairman, John B. McCoy: “We’ll deal with you straight; No fluff and no excuses.”

At the Leo Burnett Co. Inc. advertising agency, we had to know both Leo’s mission statement (“The best advertising in the world, bar none.”) and motto (“Reach for the stars. You may not always get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud, either.”).

How to write your mission statement

Eloquence is not essential. Any divorced person will tell you there is no mission statement more movingly phrased—or more difficult to live up to—than traditional wedding vows. But avoid corporate speak, too.

Keep it simple and direct. Phrase it just as if you were talking to a friend. The most effective mission statements inspire.

Here’s a good way to start. Answer in 50 words or less: Why are you in business? Why this product? Why these customers? What do you do better than your competitors and why?

Pick the principles you live by. Write them down. Then build your credo from the principles you want your employees to emulate. The big company examples above make good thought-starters.

Once written, use your mission statement. Share it with employees. Post it around the office. Display it at meetings. Distribute it to customers and suppliers. Print it on your letterhead, purchase orders and invoices.

Use it as a direct mailing to all your customers and potential customers. Enclose a copy and a cover letter explaining how it was written and how you intend to live up to it today and in the future.

If the function of a leader is to advance a clear and shared vision of the organization, what better way than through the stated mission of the business?

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