CEO, Culture, Leadership

The Company Promise Statement – Mission

What Is Your Mission?
Continuing our blog series on the Company Promise Statement, we have taken a look so far at the company’s Purpose and Vision. Let’s now turn our attention to the Mission. Where the Purpose answered the question “Why Are You Working?” and the Vision “What World Are You Creating?”, the Mission addresses the question “What Are We Doing, and For Whom?”
 
Arriving at your Purpose and Vision are critical precursors to defining your Mission and they help establish the overarching framework for the business. Depending on your personality type, you may have found both to be abstract and even esoteric. If that is how you feel, the good news is the Mission brings us back down to Earth by outlining what we want to be doing on a daily basis.
 
Let’s take one of the Great Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramids at Giza, to illustrate the distinctions. There is evidence that the ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife and that death on Earth was the beginning of a transition to the afterlife. The Pyramids are thought to be a tomb for the Pharaoh’s remains, as well as a place to store the items that would be required in the afterlife. In this case, the Purpose is eternal life, the Vision is the Pyramid(s) to enable the Pharaoh’s transition to the afterlife, and the Mission is the brick-laying that enables the Vision to be realized (i.e. the Pyramids to be built).
 
 
To further illustrate the point about the focus on action, a very famous historical example of an inspiring Mission comes from JFK’s speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, in which he said, “I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
 
In this post, we will use a similar format to the previous ones by covering the definition of the Mission, go over its value to the organization, outline how it is constructed, and review some real-world examples. Following this post, the next post will cover the last — and arguably most important — element of the Company Promise Statement, the Values.
 
What is a Mission?
Merriam-Webster defines a Mission as “a specific task with which a person or a group is charged”, a “calling, vocation”, and “a preestablished and often self-imposed objective or purpose.” Dictionary.com’s definitions include “any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed” and “an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction; a calling or vocation”. And Cambridge Dictionary has a section of Workplace definitions that include “an important job that someone is given to do” and “the result that a company or an organization is trying to achieve through its plans or actions”.
 
Looking more specifically at a company Vision and paraphrasing from our last post, we have that the Vision is brought into reality by the Mission, with the latter being defined by what the people in the company do every day. A Mission statement will be most effective when it answers the following questions:
  • Whom are we serving?
  • What are we striving to do for them?
It is critical that there be alignment between the Mission and Vision: once you have drafted your Mission, ask: will the continual accomplishment of this mission lead to the realization of our Vision?
 
To distinguish the Mission from the future noun form of the Vision “a world where…”, a Mission statement is most effective when it is constructed as a statement of doing that starts with “to…”.
 
For example, while Tesla’s Vision might be “an entire sustainable energy ecosystem”, their Mission is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
 
Taking another example, Khan Academy has a Vision for a world where “Anyone can learn anything. For Free.” while their Mission is “to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere”.
 
You will see in both cases how the vision is the future state the companies are striving to bring into being, which may or may not ever be realized but is worth continually striving for; the Mission, on the other hand, is what they are doing day in and day out when they show up to work to make that vision into a reality.
 
As with the Purpose and Vision, there is a distinction to be made between having a Mission, and having a compelling and inspiring Mission. I will address the components of what makes for a great Mission later in this post but for now, let’s proceed under the assumption that a Mission is more likely to be compelling and inspiring to a broader number of people when it relates to good that is being created in the world, in the service of others.
A company Mission is more likely to be compelling and inspiring to a broader number of constituents when it relates to good that is being created in the world, in the service of others.
Mission vs. Vision
Mission statements are often confused with vision statements. Do some research on the topic and you will find numerous examples where companies and individuals use the terms interchangeably, or in some cases, to describe a sentence and in other cases to describe a series of statements that include one or both as well as the core values. It is exactly this lack of clarity that prompted us to write this series of blog posts and at least attempt to bring some structure and format to the declaration of a company’s promises to its employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders.
 
A Vision outlines the world you want to bring into existence: it’s an open-ended and ambitious statement that may never be fully realized. A Mission, on the other hand, is how a company goes about realizing the Mission statement. The table below sets out some of the differences between the two statements.
 
Company Vision vs. Mission
Vision
Mission
Definition
An aspirational world the company or organization is striving to bring into existence.
What the company and its people do on an ongoing basis to bring the Vision into reality.
Timeframe
Future
Present
Duration
25+ years
Revisit and potentially amend every 3-5 years
Realization
Distant future
Daily, ongoing
Format
“A world where…”
“To…”
Metaphor
Bird’s eye view
Specific instructions
Examples
Tesla: “an entire sustainable energy ecosystem”
 
Khan Academy: “Anyone can learn anything. For Free.”
 
 
Tesla: “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” Khan Academy: “to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere”
By this point, hopefully it is clear what a company Mission is, and how it relates to the company Vision. Let’s discuss further what the value of the Mission is, and why you want to have one for your company.
 
Value of the Mission
In previous posts, I wrote at length about the benefits of a well-crafted Purpose and Vision: clear orientation for a company; alignment (if not unity) around that orientation; and highly engaged team members when led by passionate leaders. The Purpose and Vision form the basis for the company’s strategy which, all else being equal, will result in greater performance compared to companies without alignment and engagement in pursuit of a common orientation. A well-crafted Mission extends the foundation of the Purpose and Vision to provide clear direction that focuses the entire company on what really matters in delivering your product or service.
A well-crafted Mission extends the foundation of the Purpose and Vision to provide clear direction that focuses the entire company on what really matters in delivering your product or service.
Some of the unique benefits that the Mission brings to the company’s Promise Statement and ultimately to the company’s employees include:
  • Distills the Vision into a specific direction to be followed
  • Is easily comprehensible and implementable
  • Serves to guide company employees on what is important for them to focus on delivering
  • Provides a basis for more immediate and ongoing assessment in terms of its accomplishment
  • Helps increase cross-company buy-in and engagement
According to a RewardGateway survey, 89% of employers believe that their employees’ understanding of their Mission is critical to the success of their business. Unfortunately, only 25% of employees felt completely informed about their company’s corporate Mission while at companies with high Employee Net Promoter Scores (eNPS), over 80% of their workforces agreed that their employers were transparent about how the companies planned to achieve their missions.
 
As with the Purpose and Vision, the Mission plays into employee recruitment, retention and referral to other prospective team members — but only if you take the time and effort to ensure that it is clear, the path to achieving it is well communicated, and it is continually reinforced.
 
How to Craft Your Mission
As with the Purpose and Vision, the ATEAM framework contains the core elements you will want to aspire to in your Mission:
  • Authentic: will your team see the Mission as a true and accurate reflection of what you do for your customers and stakeholders?
  • Transcendent: will the Mission improve the lives of others and, ultimately, make the world a better place?
  • Enduring: will the Mission continue to direct your team on what to do for years to come?
  • Activating: will your stakeholders, and your team members in particular, be motivated to put in the effort outlined by the Mission?
  • Memorable: will you and your team members remember the Mission, be inspired by it, and check yourselves at any point in time by asking whether you are accomplishing your Mission in any given circumstance?
In my prior post on Vision, I described in depth an approach you can take to craft your Vision. Many of those same steps apply for crafting your Mission. In fact, it will likely be a lot easier to come up with your Mission as you already have the Vision as your proverbial destination and can ask yourself and your team what you will do to make it happen. As such, I won’t repeat the same steps here but rather provide an abridged version to guide you in translating your Vision into your Mission.
 
Assemble and Empower Your Mission Team
As outlined in the Vision post, your Core Team consists of employees who possess the core values of your company. You could start by inviting the same team that helped you with Vision, or use it as an opportunity to engage others as you see fit.
 
To empower the Team and help them understand the importance of crafting the Mission statement, share what you arrived at for your company’s Purpose and Vision, and the unique role and value of the Mission in your company’s Promise Statement.
 
Note that it is essential that you be clear from the beginning about what will happen in the event that there is not unanimous agreement on the precise wording of the final statement. Two common possibilities are 1) majority rules, or 2) the CEO makes the final call based on due consideration of everyone’s input. Either approach can work provided it is consistent with your core values and culture.
 
Align on Whom You Are Serving
The first question to address as a team is to ensure there is clear alignment on whom you are serving. Sometimes this is very clear. In other cases, it can be complicated by the existence of users vs paying customers, or distributors vs end consumers. Even in the case where there is a distribution structure, it can be beneficial to focus on the end consumer as better serving their wants and needs may mean better serving your distributors.
 
Review the responses as a group. The focus here is not on who submitted the phrase, but rather how much the concepts in the phrase resonate with the team. As such, it is best if the phrases are submitted on post-it notes (physical or virtual) or in some way that does not identify the writer, and you also want to impress upon the core team members not to claim any form of ownership or authorship over what they write down and submit. As with most collaborative activities, egos left unchecked will generally get in the way of an optimal outcome.
 
What Are We Striving To Do For Them?
Once you have achieved consensus on whom you are serving, you can proceed to the next question: what are we striving to do for them?
 
As with the previous question, have everyone submit short phrases that encapsulate what they see as the essence of what the company is striving to do for its customers. At this stage, it is best to not even try for full sentences as buy-in will be greatest when the team works together on crafting the final statement.
Buy-in will be greatest when the team works together on crafting the final statement.
Review and read aloud the phrases that have been submitted. Note repeating themes, and highlight Missions that align with your existing Purpose and Vision.
 
Crafting the Draft Mission Statement
Once you achieve group alignment on the question of what you are striving to do for your customers, you will want to start experimenting with different ways of bringing the answer to that question together with the one to the question of whom you are serving. You can then play with different sentence structures and specific wording to see what comes up for your core team members as you consider the phrasing. This is where the diversity of your core group will shine, as perceptions of words will surface that will not only educate you all as to how others may not perceive specific words and phrases in the same way you do, but also ideally increase your collective awareness and sensitivity as each member explains why they see the words the way that they do.
 
For example, you may align that your key customers are owners of health food stores, and that the service that you are providing to them is market intelligence on emerging products. Sample mission statements for these two responses to our key questions might include (Our mission is…):
  • To continually increase human longevity and quality of life through market insights.
  • To use product intelligence to enable all people to live long and healthy lives.
  • To inform, educate and inspire people on how to get the most out of their lives.
As you can see, these are three quite different statements that can all address the same set of end customers, and with the same set of products and services. It is very typical to see statements as diverse as these when crafting a Mission statement (or Purpose, Vision or Values, for that matter).
 
So how do you settle on a final — still draft — statement? It takes a fair amount of time and open discussion, and requires the investment of time, presence of mind, and openness to listening from all of your core team members. Start by not proceeding too quickly to crafting the complete sentence as you may find yourself missing the forest for the trees and getting caught up in premature wordsmithing.
 
Rather, assuming you have achieved alignment on whom you are serving, take the responses to the “what are you striving to do for them” question and ask openly “why is that important”? Take the responses and dig deeper, asking “and why is that important”? As you go through this process for each phrase — or even a list of them that has been pre-prioritized by votes — if your culture and process are healthy and everyone feels they are being heard and given the opportunity to express themselves, you will find that you will have a rich and nuanced discussion about the nature of what it is that you are aiming to do.
 
As you continue this process, you will find that you either all gravitate toward a common statement, or that some of your leadership is required to nudge the group toward a final draft. While the former case is ideal, the latter case is not at all unusual and will be effective provided you have been clear about how the final decision would be made, and that you have a culture of disagreeing and committing (as opposed to, for example, a toxic culture of disagreeing and complaining afterward).
Diversity in your initial core team will strengthen and broaden the appeal of your Mission statement.
Test Your Mission
You now have your draft Mission statement – time to test it. As a last double-check before you test it externally:
  • Is it clear whom you are serving?
  • Is it clear what you are striving to do for them?
  • Is your draft Mission statement aligned with your Purpose and will its execution help bring about your Vision?
  • Does the Mission address the five ATEAM elements?
If you have disconnects on any of the above questions, you will want to go back to an earlier stage of the process and address it before proceeding further. Like flaws in a mechanical structure, these will likely get exposed and come apart under the increased speed and pressure of operating in your market.
 
Assuming your draft statement passes the tests, circulate it to and request feedback from key advisors, a broader group in your company and/or your whole company, your Board of Directors, and finally your customers, partners and investors.
Use It!
As with the Purpose and Vision, the Mission is only useful and effective if it is clearly understood, it speaks to your team members and customers, and it is continually repeated and reinforced. Posters (physical or virtual) are useful for creating visual reminder cues. However, much more important to instilling the Mission is the leadership team continually referencing it internally and externally in meetings, marketing materials, sales presentations, and press releases and public announcements to name a few. You want the company’s Mission to be so strongly associated with your company and brand that it becomes ingrained in the minds of everyone that works for or with your company. And, once again, you ideally want the Mission, as with the Purpose and Vision, to be compelling and inspiring for all who hear it and think of your company.
Your Mission is only useful and effective if it is clearly understood, it speaks to your team members and customers, and it is continually repeated and reinforced.
Examples
As with our prior posts on Purpose and Vision, let’s test a series of Mission statements against the two key Mission-specific questions I outlined earlier (“whom are we serving” and “what are we striving to do for them”), as well as run them against our ATEAM framework.
 
As a general comment and prelude to the examples below, based on research of over a hundred companies, businesses are much better at defining their Mission than their Vision or purpose. There is too little data to make a definitive conclusion but an anecdotal perspective is that this may demonstrate a bias, at least amongst the companies viewed, to tactical execution (the Mission) over strategic planning (the Purpose and Vision).
 
Google
  • Whom are we serving? Although it is not explicitly stated, the implication is that this Mission is designed to serve everyone in the world.
  • What are we striving to do for them? Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Google’s Mission certainly meets the Mission test as the statement is constructed in verb form starting with “to…”. Now, let’s test it against the ATEAM framework:
  • Authentic. Very good: Google has clearly established itself as the primary starting point for anyone to access information, though some might quibble about the level of organization and usefulness of that information.
  • Transcendent. Excellent: This is not about Google itself but about what it delivers to its users.
  • Enduring. Excellent: It is hard to imagine a world in which we will not want access to more information in a useful manner.
  • Activating. Very good: In its purest form, providing access to the world’s information and making it organized and useful is a desirable goal. That being said, not everyone will be inspired by this pursuit as they may not feel enough direct connection to helping others. Some may also question whether Google is undermining its Mission in the pursuit of revenue by placing paid advertisements above legitimate sources of information on any given topic, but that is an issue of execution against the statement itself, which does have a laudable intention.
  • Memorable. Good: I don’t know about you but this feels like a bit of a mouthful. I suspect that if we surveyed Google employees, we would not get complete recall.
Possible Alternative: “Our mission is to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful.”
 
The word “organize” feels like a back office function that is actually a requirement for making it useful to the end user. As such, it seems redundant and not customer-facing.
 
As an afterthought, Google’s Vision has been stated as “to provide access to the world’s information in one click”. This is a more inspiring and compelling statement though it is written in the form of a Mission. It is also interesting to note the distinction between speed in the Vision (in one click) and utility in the Mission (organized and useful). An alternative writing of the Vision in the form of a world we want to create might be “The world’s information in one click.”
 
Taking the two statements together, it is clear that Google wants its employees to continually be working toward obtaining more of the world’s information, and making it accessible and useful to users, fast.
 
Shopify
  • Whom are we serving? Everyone!
  • What are we striving to do for them? Make ecommerce better.
And the statement begins with “To…” — a good start for Shopify.
  • Authentic. Excellent: Shopify has established itself as one of the easiest and fastest ways to engage in ecommerce, whether for sellers or buyers.
  • Transcendent. Excellent: As long as you have an interest in ecommerce, Shopify is thinking of how to make it better for you.
  • Enduring. Excellent: There are other forms of commerce but Shopify is planting its pole in the area of ecommerce specifically, presumably including mobile, social and any kind of commerce that happens online, and it is a safe bet that ecommerce will continue to rise in importance in the future.
  • Activating. Very good: Not everyone wants to make ecommerce better but there are more than enough sellers, buyers and prospective employees that do that this will be an inspiring Mission for them to focus on.
  • Memorable. Excellent: Short and pithy.
Possible Alternative: None. It is excellent as is.
 
Starbucks
  • Whom are we serving? While it is not entirely clear, one can infer by the use of “the human spirit” and “one person, one cup and one neighborhood” that it would be everyone in the world.
  • What are we striving to do for them? Inspire and nurture (the human spirit).
Does the statement begin with “To…”? Yes, it does.
 
There is so much nuance to the Starbucks Mission statement that it merits a prelude. How you judge the Mission statement very much depends on how one views Starbucks. It is very telling how Starbucks does not focus its Mission statement on coffee, the drink it is most known for delivering, but rather takes a very broad and expansive view of the “Starbucks experience”, calling it inspiring and nurturing. This is branding at its best. What Starbucks wants to be known for is not only its coffee — a low-priced commodity purchase before the company revolutionized the category — but its fostering of human connection through its products, the delivery of its service, and the layout and ambience of its locations.
 
Starbucks has also elevated coffee-drinking from an experience that was historically viewed as a mundane daily activity into one that people view as a reward to themselves. For example, many coffee drinkers don’t attach any importance to the cup that holds their coffee. When one buys a Starbucks, on the other hand, they have made the ubiquitous Starbucks siren logo into somewhat of a symbol of prestige, a statement about being independent and able to afford the higher price that comes with a Starbucks beverage.
 
Ultimately, what Starbucks has aimed to create is an emotional connection for its customers (and the world) that will evoke a positive emotional experience for people when they drink a Starbucks beverage or visit a Starbucks location. As such, the Mission is excellent if you subscribe to the Starbucks mystique, whereas the Mission is only good if you think that Starbucks is essentially a purveyor of overpriced coffees and beverages. As with all things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Authentic. Very good: as outlined in the lengthy prelude above, this Mission will completely hit the mark for some, while others will view it as well beyond the scope of what Starbucks does best.
  • Transcendent. Excellent: the Mission expresses a lofty objective in the service of others.
  • Enduring. Excellent: inspiring and nurturing the human spirit is worthy of unending dedication.
  • Activating. Very good: the notion of inspiring and nurturing the human spirit is laudable, though perhaps somewhat vague with the potential for significant differences in its execution. This statement would be best clarified by additional detail on how Starbucks team members can deliver in this manner.
  • Memorable. Very good: a bit long but the first part alone — “to inspire and nurture the human spirit” — is highly memorable.
Possible Alternative: To be clear, the statement is very, very good as is. That said, here are a few options:
  • “To inspire and nurture the human spirit.”
  • Increased memorability, arguably more activating but at the expense of being even more vague, and potentially slightly lower in authenticity as it removes the reference to localities.
  • “To inspire and nurture the human spirit through acceptance and connection.”
  • Slightly more memorable than the original, slightly more prescriptive with no cost to how activating it is, and arguably at least as authentic as the original.
  • “Fostering acceptance and connection for everyone, everywhere – one cup at a time.”
  • Personal opinion: I find Starbucks to be much more about acceptance and connection than I do about inspiration or nurturing. When I think Starbucks, I think about people connecting for business or pleasure over a beverage, taking some “me time”, working remotely in one of their locations, their warm ambiance, their progressive hiring practices, and the inviting music they play. All of those speak to me of 1) acceptance – come as you are; and often 2) connection. As such, and I recognize that this will be a highly subjective assessment, I feel that this last one is higher in authenticity, activation and memorability, especially when coupled with the trailer about one cup at a time.
Patagonia
  • Whom are we serving? Earth, and by extension all human and living beings.
  • What are we striving to do for them? Save it/them.
Interestingly, this statement does not start with “To…”, though it is clearly embedded in the statement “to save our home planet.”
 
Patagonia offers a variety of clothing and other products and services that are designed to be durable, of high quality and manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner. They also donate time and money to nature-based causes, were as a founding member of One Percent for the Planet, and inspire others to act on behalf of environmental causes and operate in a sustainable manner.
  • Authentic. Excellent: Patagonia is renowned for their leadership in environmental thinking and causes.
  • Transcendent. Excellent: What worthier cause could there be than to save the planet on which we all live?
  • Enduring. Excellent: As we come to learn more about the challenges we face in striving for net zero in our increasingly industrializing world, this Mission will be valid for the rest of our lives and beyond.
  • Activating. Very good: This is borderline excellent. If I had a quibble, it would be with the “We’re in business” portion of the phrase, as well as the omission of Patagonia’s role in inspiring other business leaders.
  • Memorable. Excellent: Highly memorable, especially the latter portion of “to save our home planet.”
Possible Alternative: It is excellent as is, especially if we focus on the core of the mission, “to save our home planet”. One possible option to address Patagonia’s role as a company that is leading the way for others in the area of environment and balance might be “To save our home planet through our products and leadership” or “To deliver products and leadership to save our home planet.”
 
Sony
  • Whom are we serving? The world, presumably meaning everyone on Earth.
  • What are we striving to do for them? Fill them with emotion.
The use of the word “to” is implied here, as in “Our mission is to fill the world with emotion…”
  • Authentic. Very good, possibly excellent: Most people associate Sony with consumer electronic products such as televisions, cameras, game consoles and music players. While they do mention technology as the means, it is very interesting that Sony views their ultimate aim being to evoke emotion from their customers and users. In reading Sony’s Mission and working through why they would choose that wording, I am reminded of the Maya Angelou quotation, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
  • Transcendent. Good: Note that they do not specify positive emotions such as joy or delight, but rather a broader possibility of emotions. From my read, that makes me wonder whether they have identified the evoking of emotion, whether good or bad, as a factor in product loyalty. To qualify as transcendent, I would rather see a focus on the positive. The word “power” can also have slightly negative connotations, and I think there are better choices here.
  • Enduring. Excellent: Emotion, and the intersection of creativity and technology, will be with us for many years to come.
  • Activating. Very good: A Sony team member can guide their actions by asking themselves whether what they are working on is a creative use of technology that will generate emotion. Again, I think this would be more activating if there was an emphasis on the creation of positive emotion.
  • Memorable. Excellent: Highly memorable, especially the latter portion of “to save our home planet.”
Possible Alternative: “To inspire and elevate humanity through innovative technology.”
 
What’s Your Mission?
Having reviewed the definition, construction, and value of the Mission, as well as its unique place in the Company Promise Statement with some examples, I have addressed the questions of company direction and execution: the Purpose establishes why you do what you do, the Vision the world you want to bring into being, and the Mission what you aim to do on a daily basis to realize that Vision.
 
While I have provided a framework for expressing a mission statement, it is important to note that as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” In the case of a company, what you actually do as a company ultimately speaks volumes more than what you say as a company. Your goal is to make the two one and the same or as a friend of mine liked to state in mathematical form, “Talk – action = zero.”
 
Similarly, and this goes to the test of authenticity, establishing or updating your company’s Mission statement will only be accepted and effective if you have the underlying foundations of a trusting and open culture, and especially of leadership. And as with all aspects of company leadership and direction, that starts with the CEO and is instilled throughout the organization by its leaders.
 
On that note, in our next post in this series I will address the final – and some would argue the most important – element of the Company Promise Statement, the Values, which govern how we operate internally amongst ourselves, and externally with our customers and other external stakeholders.
 
What is your Mission?

Leave the first comment

My name is Alexander Rink. Drawing upon over 20 years of experience growing early-stage companies, my team and I help CEOs and Boards of Directors of companies from $1M to $25M in revenues identify and resolve strategic and organizational challenges to accelerate their company’s growth in a capital efficient manner.

Contact
Subscription Form