Most organizations do create some sort of mission statement, but few are actually driven by a mission. Organizations with mission statements but no real mission, often survive, sometimes even thrive in pure business (financial) terms, but never really rise above “we are here to sell our products and services.” On the other hand, organizations with a real mission not only thrive, but pursuing a worthy purpose, also change the world for the better.
What is mission?
The mission of an organization answers a very basic question: Why are we doing what we are doing? Why our business exists?
For an ordinary organization, the answer is some variation of “for making profit or making money or just doing business.” But for an organization with a mission, the answer inevitably focuses not on own interests but on making some genuine contribution to the society. These mission-driven organizations see profit or business success as a natural byproduct of pursuing a mission--and not as the primary goal itself.
LinkedIn’s mission of “Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful” focuses on a specific segment of society and a tangible contribution.
Similarly, Google’s mission of “Organizing world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” focuses on a specific contribution the company aspires to make to the world.
In contrast, look at the following mission statement of The Coca-Cola Company:
“To refresh the world…. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness….To create value and make a difference.”
The employees of LinkedIn and Google can easily appreciate why these companies do what they do, but if you work for Coke, you may need to stretch your imagination to connect the company’s mission with its products.
In essence, a mission is about “why”.
Impact of a mission
What does a mission do? Why should an organization define its purpose of existence in contributory terms? Why is it not enough to simply focus on selling products and services and be contended about it?
Basically, a mission does three things:
It directs an organization’s limited attention, resources and actions in a specific direction. In other words, it saves an organization from dissipating itself by chasing multiple, diverse opportunities. For example, at one point, LinkedIn was considering including a games portal on its platform, but then the company realized it was not in line with its mission and dropped the idea.
According to a 2013 survey of 12,115 workers by The Energy Project, a company engaged in building healthier and purposeful workplaces, 50% people miss “meaning and significance” in their work, and also 50% don’t connect to their company’s mission. A mission fulfills this need, which is what employees are increasingly craving for.
When an organization is focused on a carefully defined mission to make a contribution and its employees are driven to achieve that mission, obviously such an organization outperforms its competitors. It is almost impossible to imagine a consistently high level of performance without a strong mission, particularly in highly competitive situations.
A mission may look like an intangible idea or just another statement on “about us” page of a company’s Web site, but if an organization consciously chooses to create and pursue a mission, it can turn out to be the most important element of its strategy.
Crafting a mission
A mission is a marriage between what the world most needs, and what an organization is most competent and committed to offer. The first step should be look outside and see which problems remain unsolved, what gaps exist, where the greatest opportunities for impact are available. And then try to marry the outside opportunities with organization’s competence and offerings. Often, it is synonymous with passion, passion to change things, make an impact. Many iterations and thought sessions may be required, but ultimately a mission worth pursuing would have the following three characteristics:
First and foremost, a mission should be authentic, which means it should address a genuine need of the people or society, and focus on a worthy contribution.
For example, look at the following mission of Pepsi: “Our mission is to be the world's premier consumer products company focused on convenient foods and beverages. We seek to produce financial rewards to investors as we provide opportunities for growth and enrichment to our employees, our business partners and the communities in which we operate. And in everything we do, we strive for honesty, fairness and integrity.” This mission is largely focused on the company itself.
Another example, here is the mission of Starbucks: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” The mission seems worthy, but do company’s products really match this mission?
On the other hand, consider the following mission of Nestle: “Our mission of ‘Good Food, Good Life’ is to provide consumers with the best tasting, most nutritious choices in a wide range of food and beverage categories and eating occasions, from morning to night.” Its products reflect this intent.
Peter Drucker wrote, “The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T- shirt.” In other words, a mission can’t be vague, too broad and hazy; it should be distilled to a level where everyone in and outside the organization can easily understand and connect with it.
For example, try to understand the following mission statement of McDonald’s: “McDonald's brand mission is to be our customers' favorite place and way to eat and drink. Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which center on an exceptional customer experience – People, Products, Place, Price and Promotion. We are committed to continuously improving our operations and enhancing our customers' experience.”
In contrast, look at the mission of food giant Danone: “Bringing health through food to as many people as possible.“
A mission should simple and clear enough for employees to understand and be able to connect the mission with their work.
Having a mission statement is of little use unless it inspires action. A mission should be such that people feel almost compelled to act and feel proud of pursuing it. In that sense, Facebook’s mission of “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” sounds inspirational.
On the other hand, look at the mission of oil giant Shell: “To continuously deliver shareholder value by manufacturing and supplying oil products and services that satisfy the needs of our customers; constantly achieving operational excellence; conducting our business in a safe, environmentally sustainable and economically optimum manner; and employing a diverse, innovative and results-oriented team motivated to deliver excellence.” It’s wordy and uninspiring.
In contrast, look at Twitter’s mission: “To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” It can’t be denied that Twitter’s is indeed empowering people and changing the world for the better.
You will notice inspiring mission statements are authentic and clear.
Organizations with authentic, clear and inspiring mission stand on a solid ground to not just grow their business, but also make a worthwhile contribution. Their financial performance is also more likely to remain consistent over long stretches of time. And they also don't have to fight the negative spillovers of their products and services (unlike companies like McDonald’s and Pepsi and Coke), conserving their energy and resources to do more good.
Mission can be the most powerful force to shape the destiny of an organization. Ultimately, crafting a mission is not about crafting a statement; it’s about igniting a fire to make a positive impact on the world.