Management textbooks mention that a mission statement should be inspiring and motivating from the ordinary employee through Management to the Board. Although there are good mission statements out there, there is an awful lot of poor ones. Inspiring is not exactly the impression one gets when reading many mission statements from strategic plans. One usually sees a rephrasing of what organizations do and how they do it. They tend to reflect functions organizations carry out summarized in some way. Such mission statements are not exactly inspiring. So what is wrong?
To inspire, a mission statement must convey a sense of purpose, which gives a sense of why an organization exists. It is this sense of purpose that gives meaning to what organizations do and what they stand for. Without discovering the purpose an organization is without life; it is empty. Peter Drucker once stated that a mission could not be impersonal; it has to have deep meaning, be something you believe in – something you know is right. A good mission statement therefore conveys the purpose of an organization and a sense of the right thing to do. Knowing this is what inspires and motivates. It points to the course the organization stands for, which is why it does whatever it does including the way it does things.
Identifying and crafting a mission statement for an organization is arguably one of the most important tasks that should be given a great deal of attention. It takes thinking and considerable facilitated discussion to discover an organization’s purpose from which to craft a mission statement. Part of the problem causing organizational purpose to remain so cryptic and even elusive is that organizational mandates are often written in form of functions thereby neither elucidating services nor customers to be served. The original purpose of mandates remains obscure waiting to be discovered.
Once discovered, a purpose has this potential to almost magically unveil opportunities for meeting customer needs. It is in this way a mission statement becomes inspiring and motivating in no way similar or anywhere near what organizational functions can do. A good mission statement clearly makes everyone in an organization identify with what the organization stands for and its goals. It is not surprising that purpose connotes the true business an organization is in. Understanding this is getting the sense of what the organization should truly focus on. This is why mission statements are that important for organizations.
It is tempting, for example, for a training institution to see its mission as training or providing the best training or excelling in training, which is what one sees in many cases. However, training is what the institution does; it is not why it does it. It cannot be the mission statement. Coming up with a good mission statement one has to understand why the institution provides training in the first place. The major difficulty here comes from the way we have been conditioned to think.
We have, by far and large, been brought up thinking functions and not services. Our job descriptions tell us functions, thus making us focus on doing rather than service delivery, and in many cases organization structures are functional. It is very difficult to discover purpose when we think functions all the time. It inhibits adequate focus on results making organizations less effective. Thinking functions has the effect of obscuring the best way to serve our customers and in so doing inhibits creativity and innovation. To craft a good mission statement one must get out of this function mind set.
This was post was updated on January 30, 2017.