How to Create a Mission Statement and Set of Guiding Principles for your Business

by Clark Driftmier

by Clark Driftmier

In the midst of the daily “slog” of our businesses – the calls, meetings, the expense calculations, follow-ups and the like – each of us should also take time to address the topic of creating a Mission Statement and set of Guiding Principles for our brands and companies. This topic often falls into the category of “very important but not so urgent,” meaning that we can choose to address it tomorrow instead of today. However, taking time for this important business development step will yield benefits that are both tangible in terms of business results and more vision-oriented in terms of building team cohesion and a sense of purpose.

Why have a written Mission Statement?

·       The Mission Statement provides a succinct written summary of the business purpose for the company – essentially, it says why you are doing what you are doing.

·       For the company team, the Mission helps serve as a direction or a compass to bring the team together in unified action and purpose. To use rowing as the analogy, he Mission helps steer the boat and ensure that all team members are pulling together on the oars.

·       For the outside world, the Mission serves as a statement of “this is who we are” to help outsiders understand the character of the company, its purpose and direction, and whether the company can be trusted to be a valued partner.

How to Create the Mission Statement

·       A good Mission Statement is both practical and altruistic.

·       The practical side links the Mission to the tangible business strategies of the company.

·       The altruistic side links the Mission to the greater needs of the society and the broader issues within which the company operates.

·       Words matter; the number of words matter; in general, the shorter the better; sweat the details when writing; extensive editing and refining are often required; don’t be afraid to edit or change after “living” with the Mission for a while.

·       It is beneficial to find a balance in the Mission which avoids both over-reach and under-reach. Over-reach means being so “over the top” or world changing that the Mission loses believability. Yes, your new veggie burger is good, but your claim to “solve all world hunger” might be an over-reach. On the opposite end, a mission that is too narrow, tactical or numbers-based loses emotional impact. Yes, your goal of 9% SG&A expense is admirable, even crucial, but in a mission statement the audience wants you to reach beyond business metrics into a somewhat more emotional and aspiration realm.

Guiding Principles

·       A set of Guiding Principles is often included alongside the Mission to add several more specific statements regarding how the company operates and how its members treat each other.

·       Guiding Principles form the social contract of the team with itself and with the world. They establish the ground rules of conduct between team members and identifies the ways that the company engages with its partners and stakeholders.

·       If internal or external conflicts arise, the Guiding Principles help to guide appropriate actions to keep the company “on course” with the Mission.

·       The Guiding Principles can also establish appropriate boundaries, delineating what the company will not do as well as what it will do as it moves forward.

·       The Guiding Principles are often written jointly by the team, and the writing exercise gives the team an emotional and managerial investment in the outcome.

To the Doubters

·       At this point, doubters might to tempted to retort “Why bother? We all know what we need to do. The business of business is business. Our purpose is to generate earnings and profit for the company and its investors.”

·       To which we respond, “Yes; Absolutely! Profit and earnings are the lifeblood of any business, without which it withers and dies, and investors must be given an attractive return on their investments - - - BUT”

·       There is more to business than profit, and the team require more returns than financial returns.

·       The team also requires a sense of purpose, a vision and direction, a feeling of unified team effort that builds cohesion and comradery and a hopeful sense that our efforts are worthwhile.

A business is an entity, but it is also a journey. Team members, investors, customers, partners and stakeholders all take this journey together, hopefully with the destination of success and prosperity. As we take this journey we will need to know: Who are we? Why are we doing this? Why does it matter? How do we treat each other? How do we treat our partners? Can we be trusted? A good Mission Statements and set of Guiding Principles can help to answer all of these questions for the benefit of the company, its team, stakeholders and the broader society.

Clark Driftmier is the Managing Director of Strobus Consulting