Mission
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What is a mission statement in business?

Here is one truth about vision and mission statements: nobody really knows what they are.  

If you search for “what is vision?” and “what is mission?” or “what are vision and mission?”, you will find enough conflicting answers to tie your brain up in knots for the full 32 seconds it takes you to become interested in something else.  

Then there is a second truth about vision and mission: almost everyone recognizes their importance.  

So, let’s start there.  

Vision statements and mission statements are important because they give you something to work toward.  Steven Covey talked about starting with the end in mind because otherwise your mind gets stuck and coordinating a team becomes impossible.  


What is a mission statement?

A mission statement is a statement of what you do as a company. It is the reason it is the why, how and what of your business.


Imagine building a house and one day a group of the most competent framers show up with a load of 2×4’s, some circular saws and a mountain of nails.  They have the capability and capacity to frame a house in days.  

But if you just show them the foundation and tell them to go for it, they will make a mess of the whole thing. 

If the plan is clear in your head but never articulated, then you have to manage the placement of every 2×4 and judge every action.  This is the realm of Gotcha Management: You do what is in my head and I will judge whether it is right or wrong.

The only metric is in your head, so you have to micromanage the project from beginning to end. The problem with micromanagement is its power to slow the team down and generate nonstop errors and corrections. Since no one knows the solution they will always “do it wrong.”

begin with end in mind

Mission and Vision are like the blueprints 

When you have a plan, you hand it off to the team as they arrive, and they build the house while you plan the next one or go on vacation. 

Vision and mission are the first steps to create the plan.  They articulate the essence of what you are building, paint a picture of the future, and provide the motivation to keep going.  

Doing that search, you will see that what some people call mission others call vision, and vice-versa.  But the components of good visions and missions are the same: 

  • An element of why you do what you do. This aligns with your values and is the more human aspect of your business.  It doesn’t have to be an altruistic “why” but it should resonate on a human level.  People like and connect with your why. They do the what and the how because they believe in it. 
  • Descriptions of what and how.  This is the 50-thousand-foot level view of the what and the how.  The “what” could be “building houses” and the “how” “with renewable materials.”  You can add more, but this is not the place to describe every detail of your signature program.
  • An objective.  In the example of running a marathon, the objective is running 26.2 miles and the celebration that comes as a result.  In your business, this is the business that you want to create. 

As long as you have all of these elements defined you can call them whatever you want.  

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mission statement
What is a mission statement in business? 6

So let’s define mission

At Red Sapiens we think of the why, what and how as the mission and the objective/what you want to create as the vision. 

We fold core values into the mix as well and see this as the foundation of any business entity. Our favorite analogy is an archer with a bow. The target is the vision, the bow is your values and the arrow is the mission.

Defining an objective, the vision, is pretty easy. Just ask yourself what you want to create and set a target. (Read more about designing your vision here).

The mission is more nebulous, so we looked at dozens of missions that we found inspiring, interesting or useful. And we discovered a pattern. Good missions address the why the what and the how.

Of the three, the “why” is the most critical because it carries the power of oxytocin, breeds connection, and is the most motivating. You can’t have a mission without a why.

But the what and how carry a lot of weight as well. These are often confused or jumbled, and that is probably okay. However, they are distinctive. To go back to the architect analogy, if the “what” is a house, then the “how” can be anything from hand saws and hammers with wood harvested from the back yard to cranes, welders, and steel girders forged in a mill.

We knew we were on to something when we realized we had just come up with Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. He makes a great case for the importance of clarifying your “why,” “what,” and “how” with an emphasis on starting with “why.” So, while we may lose points for originality there is some nice symmetry in knowing that a lot of people agree with us.

How to create your mission:

The mission structure

mission Structure

Create Your Mission

Step 1: What is your “why”

Start creating your mission by delving into the why. Ask yourself why you are doing the thing that you do. People often think this has to be deep, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Your why should be meaningful to you and your team, but you don’t have to save the world.

Starbucks is more on the deep side with “nurture the human spirit,” whereas Disney’s why has more to do with developing great creative and innovative content. Both work.

Remember that your why is not your objective. Your why is not to make money. To understand why think of a marathon: the objective is to run 26.2 miles. That is analogous to making money: everyone is in the race for the same thing. But the why can be anything from getting fit to proving you can to competing to win the race.

Step 2: Define what do you do

In our mission structure, the “what” is the third logical step. But we find when crafting a vision that the “how” is easier to define when you know the “what.” So this is where we start.

What do you do? What is your business about? Starbucks defines their what simply as “one cup,” whereas Brilliant Earth (a jewelry brand) defines their what as “making jewelry.” Disney’s what is producing entertainment and information.

Think of the architect and the what of “building houses.”

What is your what?

Step 3: Define how you do it

Finally delve into the how. How do you do what you do? What tools to you employ? What is your “special sauce.”

Starbuck’s how is “one neighborhood at a time” while planet fitness is creating a diverse “judgement free” zone and Disney is using its diverse portfolio of brands.

The how and the why are the most powerful differentiators you have. There may be many who share your what, but your why – how combination is unique to you and has the power to set you apart.

So spend a little time here to understand your how and how it sets you apart.

How do you do what you do?

Some Examples

Here are some examples of missions that we like and that are different enough from one another to show a range of missions and different interpretations of how to craft a mission. As you read through these see if you can identify the why, how and what. Below this we have given you our interpretation.

Starbucks: 

To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.   

Brilliant Earth:

At Brilliant Earth we strive to make jewelry as beautiful as it can be.  We are passionate about cultivating a more ethical transparent, and sustainable jewelry industry.  

Disney:

The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the word’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.  Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world. 

Planet Fitness:

We at Planet Fitness are here to provide a unique environment in which anyone – and we mean anyone – can be comfortable.  A diverse, Judgement Free Zone ® where a lasting, active lifestyle can be built. Our product is a tool, a means to an end; not a brand name or a mold-maker, but a tool that can be used by anyone.  In the end it’s all about you.  As we evolve and educate ourselves, we will seek to perfect this safe, energetic, environment, where everyone feels accepted and respected.  We are not here to kiss your butt, only to kick it if that is what you need. 

How we apply the why, how, and what model to these missions:

Mission
What is a mission statement in business? 7

Next Steps

Use this as a guide to craft your mission. Share it with people around you and get their feedback, revisit it and let your mission become a key part of building your business.

Also look at building your vision, and values.

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