A company’s mission statement comprises its mission, vision and values into one short paragraph. And if you’re yet to write one, you should make it a priority.
Because while it’s easy to label mission statements as HR-waffle or ‘nice to haves’, that assumption would be wrong. Yes, this is a highly-competitive world where “time is money”, as the old adage goes. But mission statements can help you achieve more in less time — especially when resources are squeezed:
- An organization with the transparency, authenticity and trust gained from a powerful mission statement is 2.5 times more likely to outperform their competitors on revenue growth.
- And employees that connect emotionally to the visions and values of their employer are not only more productive, but are more likely to stay with a company long-term as well.
More than that, codifying your company’s mission, vision and values is a crucial part of strategy development, one that helps inform decision making.
Inspired to implement or review your organization's mission statement? Then read on.
Knowing your values from your vision
As mentioned above, mission statements feature three key elements: the mission, the vision and the values or ethos. Pulling apart their differences can lead you into murky water. So before we go any further, let’s better understand what each one is — using inspiration from some of the world’s biggest brands.
What is a company mission?
A mission is best described as the ‘what you do’ part of the statement.
Slack: Make work life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.
Slack keeps it simple — both in its mission statement and in the platform itself. Slack’s reason for being is that with greater productivity — and a more simplified working day — life becomes enjoyable and satisfying. Its mission is simplicity. And that mission is held up across all segments of the organization, to inspire its product and nurture its company culture.
Deano Roberts, Slack’s ‘Vice President, Global Real Estate, Workplace and Security’ from 2015 to 2019, once said:
“When I look at the most meaningful and impactful workplaces, I think there’s a deep alignment between tools, culture and spaces.”
And he’s right. The team mantra within Slack is “Work Hard and Go Home” — the perfect extension of its top-level mission.
What is a company vision?
If your company mission is focused on the here and now and what you’re doing today, the vision is what helps you look towards the future. Of course, you’ll be working on achieving your vision in the current moment too, but visions are vehicles for blue sky thinking — they help define “where” you want your company to be. In other words, your company vision is the answer to this simple question: where are we going?
Let’s take Nike as an example.
Nike: Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.
(*If you have a body, you are an athlete.)
Nike sells sneakers and sportswear. But its vision statement raises the bar much higher. The company envisions a world where every person, regardless of their individual physical attributes, feels inspired and is empowered to be better. It goes beyond clothing and looks to inspire and motivate — in a totally inclusive way.
A quick read of the brand’s FY19 Impact Report shows many initiatives that help move the dial towards its overall vision and goal. Nike has invested in training programs for female sports coaches to, in turn, inspire a new generation of young female athletes. It’s also doubled-down on environmental efforts, to help safeguard the future of sport across the world — ”If there is no planet, there is no sport”, explains Nike CEO John Donahoe.
What are a company’s values?
Values define how people in the organization should behave. If your company vision is where you want to go, your values are a representation of how you want to get there. In this way, your value statement provides a guideline for decision making — think of it as a moral compass, prioritizing what matters most to you as a business and to your customers as well.
Whole Foods Market: We're a purpose-driven company that aims to set the standards of excellence for food retailers. Quality is a state of mind at Whole Foods Market.
By outlining your values and ethos, you set the goal posts for right and wrong, success and failure. According to its website, Whole Foods Market bans “more than 400 ingredients commonly found in other stores as well as numerous manufacturing, farming, fishing and ranching practices that don’t measure up”. If it doesn’t embody ‘excellence’ to Whole Foods Market, then it won’t make it to the shelves.
These values can empower strategic activity at every level of the business, day in and day out. When employees rally together to push a values-driven agenda forward, you’ll find it much easier to achieve your vision.
The power of a mission statement
Your mission, vision and values come together to form something of a roadmap. You have an ideal destination — your vision — you have a means of navigating the journey — your values — and you know how you’ll get there — your mission.
The process of writing a mission statement can be very revealing. Maybe you uncover ambitions and motivations that were untapped below the surface. Maybe you realize you’ve been going about things all wrong for quite some time. Maybe you uncover inconsistencies between your exposed values and the ways in which your organization and your people actually behave. Whether your statement flows easily or ends up being a real labor of love and collaboration, it’s always worth the effort involved.
After all, once your mission, vision and values are clearly established, everything you do as a business becomes easier, more cohesive, and more complimentary.
Clearly defining your company’s mission, vision and values is often thought of as the very first step of any successful strategy development process. That’s because these statements, when clear, compatible and mutually reinforcing, serve not only as a guide to decision-making, but also as a framework for thinking about the company in relation to its customers, its competitors, its industry, and the world at large.
At its core, strategy is a discipline that deals with how an organization should interact with its environment in order to build a sustainable competitive advantage. And so strategic analysis, we can say, should provide the answer to a fundamental question: where are we, as a firm, going to compete?
Answering this question without first defining your company’s mission, vision and values is extraordinarily difficult.
Mission statements help bring the best — and most appropriate — talent to your organization.
Millennials and Gen Z in particular choose which jobs to apply for based on the company’s mission and the goals it promotes. And with these cohorts making up as much as half of the current workforce population, that’s not a demographic you want to overlook.
Ensuring alignment between a potential new hire and an organization’s mission statement means saving time and money. An applicant could have shining qualifications and a great track record, but will they help you get where you want to go?
Leaders may change, but a clearly established mission statement encourages people to focus on what's important and to better understand organization-wide change and alignment of resources.
What’s more, when employees recognize something of themselves in your brand values and vision, they’ll be fast-tracked to higher engagement. The result is less resistance and fewer workplace conflicts, and a more harmonious, emotionally-invested team.
Sound decision-making, at every level of the organization
When you’ve taken the time to align your employees on the company mission statement, you can trust that they’ll act accordingly. A mission-driven culture may start at the top, with your leaders, but that inspiration will trickle down throughout the organization — creating a motivated team with the agency to succeed.
Cornerstone Dynamics, a business productivity consultancy, sums it up well:
“If there is a decision to be made to undertake a project, or how to take action on a task: simply stop and ask, ‘Is what I am doing consistent with our organization’s vision statement? If it is, great, move forward. If not, or if there is any doubt, now is the time to pause, evaluate, and if need be, align the action or decision with the vision statement; or forgo it.”
Investor and customer buy-in
We’ve spent much of this article looking at the internal benefits of mission statements. But, of course, people external to your organization will connect with your values and vision as well.
Being able to articulate your mission in a 30-second elevator pitch is highly attractive for potential investors. That way, not only can they appreciate what you’re working to achieve — which can equal more investment — but subsequent funding rounds are likely to be simplified, too.
And lastly there’s the customers. As markets become increasingly commoditized, and product features differ less and less, a mission statement can create significant competitive advantage. Think of brands like Who Gives A Crap, forging a unique ‘reason to be’ in one of the most homogenous categories there is.
Make it your mission
It’s clear that mission statements are an incredibly valuable tool for organizations. Yes, you may face a challenge in finding the time and resources to invest in developing, communicating and upholding a mission statement. But that challenge is well worth overcoming for its real and measurable results.
Whether a scrappy start-up or an established multinational, distilling why your business exists — and what its core mission, values and vision is — acts as a clear brief for clients, employees and stakeholders.
It means everyone (and everything) is on the same page. And that’s the best place to start from.