What Makes a Great Mission Statement

What Makes a Great Mission Statement
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When done well, a good mission statement aligns all areas of an organisation toward a single minded purpose. But done poorly, mission statements can just as equally alienate people.

Having worked in strategy for many years and studied and lectured in strategy, I truly believe the act of ‘strategy making’ can influence positive directions for companies and people, by asking them to articulate where they want to go.

There are few better examples of this than mission statements.

I recently collated 51 mission statement examples from the world’s best companies. I created this list so I could reflect on what I thought made a great mission statement. And also in part because it’s hard to find examples in one place, and I thought this material would help others stimulate a healthy debate.

This is my take on what makes the best mission statements…

Mission Statements are Simple

The best mission statements are simple. They use common language to state powerful purposes, clearly. There’s not too much puffy language, or overused words. They pass the ‘sniff test of authenticity’, in other words, they do not read as though a Dilbert Generator worked them up. For example, Trip Advisor’s mission is to “help people around the world plan and have the perfect trip”. Simple and very effective. What’s not to love?

Mission Statements are Compelling

Great mission statements are compelling. They present a common purpose that people can aspire toward. Nike is famous for its mission statement “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world (*If you have a body, you are an athlete)”. That’s because not only is it an inspiring statement, but we can also relate to it, because Nike has also included each and every one of us as the target of its mission statement.

Mission Statements are Measurable

Now this is a tricky one…I also feel the best mission statements provide some sense of a target to be reached, or at least a benchmark that can be measured against. Many companies will say they want “to be Number 1” or “become the undisputed leader”. But personally I find these statements a bit ‘ho-hum’. I like the subtle measurement of missions like Amazon’s which is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices”. This statement is very measurable. First, can customers find anything they wish to buy through Amazon? Second, can they find it at the lowest price?

Mission Statements are Measurable Continuously Relevant

Great mission statements also stay continuously relevant. For example, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. This statement helps the company evaluate what businesses it is in, as well as what new markets it could explore. For example, services like Google Maps, Google Scholar, Google Books and even You Tube are all consistent with this mission statement. What will be interesting to watch as Google enters new eras (eg. driver-less cars) is whether this mission statement may adapt to support its strategy.

As for my favorite mission statement (among for profit and not-for-profit organizations), mine is the the mission statement for the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA):

“To collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards.”

Photo Credits: Greg Rakozy

I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, digital and mobile app strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GlaxoSmithKline. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.
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