How Critical is Your Mission Statement?

July 17th, 2008 by Bob Bly

When I began my corporate career in the late 70s, corporations spent huge amounts of time and money perfecting their “mission statements,” which they proudly posted on placards in the lobby.

Multi-channel marketing guru Don Libey thinks most mission statements are for the most part banal and of limited value.

His advice: “Get rid of the silly framed parchment proclamations and teach everyone the following: ‘Sell more stuff to more people any way we can!’”

Do you agree that Libey’s version gets right to the point.

Isn’t the idea to sell more stuff and make customers happy and increase revenues and profits?

Or do you prefer the thoughtful, conceptual, idealistic, warm and fuzzy mission statements that companies throughout America have spent so much effort to dream up and display?

Source: Libey Economic Outlook, 7/08, p. 1.

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11 responses about “How Critical is Your Mission Statement?”

  1. Sam Patton said:

    I have seen many “Mission Statements” over the years. Most of them are fluff. They are an attempt to make people feel good but for the most part lack any real substance.

    If they are will to re-write there company charters or constitutions to reflect those values then they might at least have some value to poterity.

  2. dianacacy said:

    In a way they are interesting, because you get to see what the company claims that their purpose is.

    And I agree – most are fluff. No substance and they leave you with feeling like you just read a long slogan title, and with the question “Yeah, but what can you do for your customer?” in mind.

    And then there are companies who make a good mission statement and do the opposite in their business.

    Mission statements used to mean something, but they don’t seem to anymore. When I started my business, I created the mission statement for me and then I read it often to remind myself of my promise. (I’m not that good at writing them either, but at least I mean it.)

  3. Sean Deminski said:

    Mission statements can be a very important and powerful tool (when used right). Many businesses miss this point and end up with “fluff” that does nothing for the company or its customers.

    Most businesses first go wrong by confusing a mission statement with a “slogan.” A mission statement should be an honest assessment to what the business truly seeks to do.

    “Sell more stuff to more people any way we can!” is a good mantra, but there has to be some reason for that.

    For example, even if Mr. Bly does not have an official “Mission Statement,” there are still some core reasons that motivates him to keep writing everyday and to continue to update his blog. These reasons don’t have to be written, but it would be fun if they were.

    For small businesses, it could be a great benefit for hiring and morale to put in writing how they intend to benefit society, instead of just making some money. This is where a mission statement could be useful.

  4. Philip McLean said:

    For a mission statement that avoids vagueness, check out the Johnson and Johnson credo:
    http://www.jnj.com/connect/about-jnj/jnj-credo/
    This guided their response to the 1982 incident in which someone poisoned Tylenol capsules. J&J was widely praised for the way they handled it, and Tylenol recovered its market share quickly.
    Examples of mission statements that are too vague to guide anything are too numerous to mention.

  5. Anne said:

    I agree with the above commenters.

    For additional discussion of mission statements and corporate culture, I would recommend reading “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Collins and Porras (based on research at Stanford’s School of Business). [Amazon link]

    In “Built to Last”, the authors contrasted two sets of large corporations (an A-list and B-list) to determine what factors made the A-list companies more successful than B-list companies in the same industry. They cite examples of companies that drafted a specific, values-driven mission statement (such as J & J’s credo) and successfully propagated the themes of their mission statement throughout their corporate culture. These [A-list] companies were more successful financially than companies that had vague or “for show” mission statements.

  6. Ken said:

    I much prefer the tone of the sample you’ve shown over fuffier varieties. If that no B.S. type tone was combined with some more detail it would be perfect.

  7. Eamon said:

    I agree, strongly, with Libey’s remark. I worked for a long time in a large multi-national with mission statements that were boring – just not the sort of thing you would find in an entrepreneur’s office, for example.

  8. owen frager said:

    In an interview with former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky asked what Yahoo’s motto is. After an uncomfortably long pause, Semel replied: “I don’t know that we have a motto. Well, the mission of the company is, Deliver great value to our consumers and, basically, value them.”

    As it happened, Yahoo did have a mission statement, even if Semel, chief executive for five years, didn’t know it: “Our mission is to be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses.”

    http://money.cnn.com/2007/02/01/technology/pluggedin_lashinsky_yahoo.fortune/index.htm

    They’ve updated it- but with so many customers of both brands, who even knows any of this?

    dare to compare:
    http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html
    to
    http://docs.yahoo.com/info/values/

  9. Ken Norkin - freelance copywriter said:

    What makes a good mission statement is the same as what was recently said here in another discussion about what makes good content. It’s got to be something relevant and credible expressed in the language of the audience you’re talking to. A good mission statement says what the organization exists to do, for whom and perhaps how, why or in what way it does it better than anyone else.

    Warm fuzzies and generic feel good verbiage really have no place in a mission statement.

    The best advice I ever read about mission statements said to put a lot of time and effort into writing one, then never show it to anyone outside your organization. Instead, put the policies in place that instill the spirit of the mission into everyone in the organization and lead by example to make it real.

    Do that right and you never have to tell the world what your mission is, because it will be clear.

  10. Bill Huddleston, CFC Expert said:

    Folks,

    Yahoo may have had a mission statement, but they apparently didn’t follow it. The information below is from another renowned Internet marketer, Perry Marshall, and I’m putting it in this post because of his comments about the attitude of Yahoo, and this was in his e-mail newsletter this past Tuesday:

    Google now has one of the coolest features they’ve put in AdWords in a long time. They now report search volume for keywords.

    The Yahoo/Overture tool used to do that before they dismantled it.

    [MINI RANT: My fights with Yahoo people over willful incompetence and red tape go back quite a few years now....
    Any business plan so utterly STUPID as to abandon one of the best loved keyword research tools on the entire Internet....

    (notice: Google introduced this new stuff immediately after Yahoo disabled theirs) and build such a royally bureaucratic PPC system as Yahoo has...

    ...Deserves to have their ass kicked by Carl Icahn, shareholder mutiny, hostile takeover by Microsoft, or whatever other grim fate befalls them. Reporters, editors and bloggers, feel free to quote me on that.

    Oh, and 2 1/2 years ago I told one of their biggest institutional investors - a fund with nearly $1 Billion of Yahoo stock - what I'm telling you now. Yahoo had a chance to get their act together then, and didn't.]

    Anyway, the old Overture tool was super handy for doing keyword research. Now Google gives you even more and better information.

    Read the rest of the story, with screen shots and notes, here:

    http://perrymarshall.com/adwords/searchvolume.htm

    Regards,
    Bill Huddleston, CFC expert
    http://www.cfcfundraising.com

  11. Reed Beckelhimer said:

    I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one nowadays..

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