Creating A Mission Statement

Phil Birch

Phil Birch - BirchBusinessIQ

Phil Birch has developed a unique methodology that allows you to manage your resources and tasks in a co-ordinated business model.

We start at the very beginning with the MISSION STATEMENT

In the many, many meetings that I have had with business owners, entrepreneurs, managers, company boards, department heads and, just as importantly, those key individuals working in the operational activities of a business the issue that generated the widest spectrum of responses from participants was that of Mission Statements.

During the “fact-finding” phase of my consultancy projects I interview from all levels of the business not just with the key decision makers and directors. Their responses when questioned about their company mission statement is about as varied and unique as their fingerprints!
In short:

* “Mission statement? It’s one of those marketing things isn’t it?”
* “What’s that?”
* “Oh yes, my boss told us about that in the annual department review.”
* “Is that Tom Cruise’s latest film?”

You get the picture.

I have seen mission statements that read like the blueprints for Napolean’s march on Stalingrad (and proved to be as effective!) and those which seemed to have been scribbled hastility on the back of an envelope whilst waiting in the rain for a cab.
So, thought I,

* What is the point of a mission statement?
* How long should the mission statement be?
* What are the key elements that need to be expressed and what, if any, can be implied?
* Who should participate in it’s formulation?
* How relevant is it to the actual daily workings of a business?
* How, if at all, should it be communicated?
* Is there a way to construct an effective statement and how best to ensure that it is relevant to the business and, in my opinion more importantly, its staff?
* Should it be an internally constructed document or is it worth investing in savvy marketing and business agencies?

The following is typical of the statements I have come across and, for all you budding company lawyers out there, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!
Teddy Bears R US
Original statement:
“To be the best seller of teddy bears in the country”

Well, that’s straight-forward enough, you may say, clear, memorable and, assuming that they sell teddy bears, appropriate; but let me expand a little by breaking down the statement;

“To be” ….. well, so far so good. It states that the company is focussed on “becoming” something; a statement of intent on improving, or retaining their position in the teddy bear market. Ok – let’s move on.

“the best” ….. Well, not quite so good here – the best at what? Number of teddy bear sales?; the nicest to deal with?; the largest mark up?; the strongest brand?; the highest customer satisfaction results?; who measures and decides “the best”?; – you see my point?

“seller of teddy bears” … what type of teddy bear?; what if they want to branch out into other cuddly, furry animals?; what about what about product reliability/returns?; where is the after-sales service?

“in the country”. Fairly straightforward here you may think but does this mean the they will never sell abroad?; is “the country” England, the UK, Great Britain? And finally, over what period is the measurement going to take place? Over a sales year or on that 3rd Thursday in June last year, you remember, following the Great teddy bear plague of old London town.

So, whilst I have not exhausted all of the potential weaknesses in the statement I am sure that you see my point.

Now onto who should be aware of this mysterious mission statement? Is it just something on the management To Do List and tucked away in the board room with the original business plan and the pile of pens that came back from the printers with the wrong coloured logo?

In my opinion, whether you are writing a mission statement or a shopping list, if you aren’t going to use it, don’t bother writing it out in the first place. If it suits your business to slowly meander down the aisles browsing at the latest exotic products, picking something from here, something else from there and hoping that there is enough money in your purse to pay for it all when you are done then so be it; but I think we all know the folly of that method. In which case, let’s revisit the above statement so that I may present you with some alternative thoughts;
“To be ….” – all OK here for now so let’s move on.

… “the best” … – say’s who? It could be more specific. The number of items sold; the value of total sales; incorporate some customer satisfaction feedback; consider all aspects of the sale so that stakeholders, managers and staff all understand what and how they become “the best”.

… “seller of teddy bears” …. Maybe expand seller to include distribution, service and maintenance, industry measurements; product development; other products and supplementary/complimentary product revenues.

… “in the country”. This may be enough but the more specific the target market then the more easily achievements can be monitored, measured and communicated.

Next, who should be aware of the statement. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of companies I have worked with, the mission statement seemed to be something that senior management and company directors were aware of (although an embarrassing number could not accurately recite to me their own company statement word for word and some hardly even had the gyst of it!). The more I discussed the company mission statement with line and operational staff, the less there was any awareness and even less association of and with it.

It struck me then, and more so now, that the directors/board were missing a massive opportunity. That of not only being clear and precise about the direction, values and performance of their company but also that unless some, if not all, of the key measures incorporated into the mission statement were filtered down throughout the whole organisation then the chance of actually achieving the required results were greatly reduced.

Incorporating statement values into management objectives and staff targets, whether qualitative or quantitative, invariably improves results at an individual, departmental and company level.
I am pretty certain that Napolean did not stand upon a hilltop on the Russian border and recite his mission statement to the troops but maybe if he had done they would have given him direct and relevant feedback about the Russian winter, supply and logistics issues, ammunition supplies and the tactics of the opposition – all vital elements in a campaign to expand his unique “product” into an unknown but attractive new market.

Phil Birch
Business Editor

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