Today we ask you to define your purpose. What is your mission? "If you don't know where you're going, it doesn't matter which way you go."
Those keen readers among you may have already realized that this is an inspirational quote from the eccentric observer, The Cheshire Cat, in Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland (1). However, the message that he cleverly delivers to Alice as she struggles to find her way through Wonderland is relevant to all business owners trying to find their way in their own business “Wonderland”; For fear of being lost and wandering aimlessly through the business world, understanding your reason for being there in the first place is essential in surviving the adventure.
When first considering your mission statement there are a few questions you should ask yourself and your executive team to truly encapsulate your reason for being at this moment in time:
- What do we do for our customers?
- Who are our customers?
- How do we do what we do?
“To design and make furniture for people.”
- Example furniture company
How did you feel when you read the mission statement above? Somewhat uninspired, I would assume. The mission is clear though, right? This company makes furniture for its consumers. But what type of furniture is it? Who are the people? Why are they making it in the first place? Without this information it is difficult for the public and stakeholders to identify with it and have an affinity with the brand. Compare it to the mission statement below:
“To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
Here you can see the same type of company doing the same thing: designing and making furniture for its customers; but who would you do business with? In this case, IKEA’s focus on experience inspires the audience and creates an idyllic image that they can take with them as a consumer. Therefore, it is vital that a vibrant, dynamic image is created; expressive descriptors such as this will not only inspire action from employees but also the general public. Would you like to be seen as a company who makes furniture or one that creates a better everyday life?
Now, you’ve had your executive meeting, you’ve been creative and you have your mission statement. What next? Now, it’s important to get opinions. Does it answer our key questions above? Is the statement understood by peers and those not so familiar with your business? What images does it create about your business? If the answers are all positive, great. If not, ask “Why?” and seek advice from them. After all this is the spirit, the very essence of your company; it needs to say why you exist. Don’t get too carried away though, as Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Group) has said “Brevity is certainly key, so try using the Twitter 140 character template when you’re drafting your inspirational message.”
“To embrace the human spirit and let it fly.”
- Virgin Atlantic
So you’ve written a killer mission statement, you and everyone around you identifies with it, your sample group gets it — it’s an inspirational message. You can be very proud of yourself, so put it somewhere safe so no one can touch it, look at it or steal it. This may be what you are thinking, but you would be wrong to do this. Like many business owners, your pride should make you want shout and sing your mission from the rooftops: “Look at us! This is what we can do for you!” (Metaphorically, of course). But in practice, this can look quite similar. Display it around your organization and on all your media outlets. Let it drive your business decisions and your interactions with customers and clients. After all, this is what you want to be known for.
“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
As the leader of your company, “look at your mission often during the day. Remind yourself of it. Then live it and breathe it every single day” (Wendy Maynard, 2010) (3). By doing this your employees are sure to follow you through the business “Wonderland” you have found yourself in. Unlike Alice, you have found yourself in the real world, without a Cheshire cat to guide you, but armed with an inspirational mission statement to reach your destiny.
- Carroll, L. Haughton, H., & Carroll, L. (2009). Alice's adventures in Wonderland ; and, Through the looking-glass and What Alice found there. New York, Penguin Classics.
- Unknown (unknown) What should a mission statement say? Available at http://www.idealist.org/info/Nonprofits/Gov1
- Maynard, W. (2010) Your Company Mission Statement is the Soul of Your Brand [Blog] Musing on Leadership. Available at: http://www.kinesisinc.com/how-to-write-a-powerful-mission-statement/