Every successful company has a mission that drives each employee and the business as a whole forward. It’s thinking beyond just your standard daily tasks or even quarterly profits—why do you do what you do, and why is it important?
Distilling this mission into a single statement is challenging, but it’s also really important. That’s why this guide will take you through everything you need to know about mission statements—what they are, why you need one, and how to create a great one of your own.
Let’s get started!
What is a mission statement?
First, think about these questions:
- What makes your company stand out from the competition?
- What makes your employees get out of bed every day to come to work?
- What are your company’s most deeply-held values?
- What is your vision for the future?
Your answers will come together to form your company’s mission statement.
In its most essential form, your mission statement tells the world and your employees why your business exists. It’s not merely to make products or provide services—your company is here to serve some sort of purpose, whether that’s providing exceptional care for your customers, making life better for your employees, or making a product that truly improves lives.
Every company has some sort of mission—but every company’s mission is also different, even if you create identical products in the same industry.
A mission statement isn’t the same thing as a vision statement or a values statement, though there’s naturally some overlap (and even though many businesses confuse or conflate the three often!).
SHRM has a great breakdown of the differences between the three kinds of statements:
- a mission statement explains why your company exists
- a vision statement clarifies your vision for the future
- a values statement lays out your core principles
One very important thing to note about mission statements—they’re both an internal and external document. They explain to customers what your business stands for and why you stand out from the rest of the pack. And they also provide inspiration and guidance for your employees, from the front line to the executive suite. A good mission statement should be both an external image projection and an internal inspiration.
Ultimately, your mission statement should be able to summarize your objectives, values, and goals in one short and compelling statement.
Why your organization needs a mission statement
So, why exactly does your company need a mission statement? Isn’t it already pretty clear to employees and customers what you do and why you do it? Isn’t this just another silly corporate exercise to pack in a bunch of buzzwords and jargon into a statement no one will read?
Not so fast—mission statements can be powerful if done correctly. (And don’t worry, we have a full list of the Do's and Don’ts of writing your own below.)
Here are just a few of the things a good mission statement can help your organization accomplish.
Give purpose and meaning to work
Your employees don’t just come into work every day to complete a series of tasks, collect a paycheck, and do it all over again the next day.
Or, at least, that’s not all they want to be doing.
To truly motivate your employees to deliver their best and be engaged with their work, you need to connect their work to a larger purpose.
This search for purpose in work is a basic human need. We’re all more motivated when we know there’s a bigger meaning to the tasks we do every day. Your mission statement gives that to your employees—it tells them why you’re all at work every day, what you’re striving towards, and why what you all do is important. That’s a powerful tool to increase employee engagement.
At companies that have clearly defined and communicated how they create value, 63% of employees say they’re motivated, versus 31% at other companies; 65% say they’re passionate about their work, versus 32% at other companies. And these purpose-driven organizations reap substantial benefits: More than 90% of them deliver growth and profits at or above the industry average, according to Strategy& research and analyses.”
–Sally Blount and Paul Leinwand, Harvard Business Review
Narrow your focus
It’s an all-too-common pitfall for businesses that get a taste of success—they expand and grow and get themselves somehow spread too thin over too many priorities. Suddenly, they’ve lost their core competencies and possibly some of their core values along the way too.
Coming up with your mission statement early on keeps this spread from happening. A good mission statement helps your company narrow your focus to what you do best, and keeps you focused on why you’re the best at doing that as well. With your mission clearly stated and kept top of mind, you can keep everyone in your company aligned to your purpose and fixated on your goals.
Shape your company culture
Your company culture affects both your employees and your customers—and you definitely have one, even if you haven’t set out to purposefully create one. Clearly outlining your mission helps thoughtfully create an outline for your company culture as a whole. Are you driven to improve the world, or create products that will change it, or treat employees and customers alike with dignity?
Your mission statement should tell external and internal consumers alike what you stand for, what your values are, and what inspires your leaders and employees every day. This is the foundation of your company culture.
Drive actual actions
Not every mission statement will help you take action—the ones filled with confusing corporate jargon and vague buzzwords won’t get you far here. But a really well-written mission statement is highly actionable, meaning you can turn to it when you need to make decisions about the direction of your company.
Your mission statement can also make the path to the future clear for your company clear to everyone: customers, stakeholders, executives, and employees alike. And that clarity drives the actions you need to take to get to that desired future state.
How to craft your own mission statement
So now you know how vital a good mission statement is to the success of your business—what’s next? You need to know the steps to create your own statement and make sure it’s great. Fortunately, that’s not too hard to do: just follow these three steps.
Describe what your company does
Start with the simplest task—describing what your company does. Do you sell tacos? Make t-shirts? Provide tax services? Write it down, getting to the bare basics without any fluff or filler.
Describe how your company does it
Now is the point where you start to incorporate your company’s core values and competencies. Perhaps you sell tacos produced from sustainable, organic, local ingredients because supporting local farming and healthy growing practices is important to you. Or you make t-shirts while providing a living wage to all your employees. Or maybe your tax services are designed to help small business owners grow so they can contribute to your local community.
Don’t get too carried away with this step—focusing on one or maybe two values here will help you stay clear and concise! Pick the most important one and go with that. And your task doesn’t end here.
Describe why your company does it
This final step is where you add in what your company is passionate about––what’s the spark that drives your business? It can help to think back to why the company was founded in the first place. What drove the owner or founder to start their own business instead of working for someone else?
The final mission statements with the “why” added for our three sample business could look like this:
- We make tacos sourced from sustainable, local ingredients to feed our families, our community, and our farming partners the healthy way.
- We make top-quality t-shirts crafted by workers paid a living wage, because we believe in excellent products instead of exploiting workers.
- We provide tax services for local small businesses to help them grow into a valued and valuable part of our local community.
Mission statement examples
As you can probably tell by now, creating your own mission statement can be complex! Looking at the best company mission statement examples can help you further refine your statement so it is as effective and inspirational as possible.
SHRM has some mission statement outlines that can get you started on the process, but it’s also instructive to check out the mission of five companies that have done it well.
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
This statement describes both the high standard of product Patagonia puts out, and also succinctly describes their strong commitment to environmental causes which are at the heart of the company.
To create a better everyday life for the many people.
IKEA’s statement puts them beyond just makers of inexpensive furniture, and illustrates their vision of making everyday life better with their products.
To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.
More than just a way to get from place to place, JetBlue’s mission is stated to be a company that inspires people everywhere.
Super short and very sweet—TED’s mission statement shows that you don’t need to go on and on when just two words will do.
We work hard every day to make American Express the world's most respected service brand.
American Express’ mission is to both work hard and earn their customers’ respect across the world, not just issue credit cards.
Mission statements do’s and don’ts
When you’re writing your own mission statement, use these guidelines to ensure you’re writing a powerful and effective one like the examples above.
- DO: Keep the tone exciting and energizing—this should feel inspiring, not like it’s just a box to tick off on a list.
- DON’T: Just say you want to be the best. You need to be more specific—why do you want to be the best? What makes you the best? What exactly are you the best at?
- DO: Keep it short, impactful, and clear. Your mission statement should be one, maybe two, sentences at maximum and your mission should be immediately clear to the reader.
- DON’T: Fill it with vague corporate buzzwords or industry jargon. It’s easy to just pack a lot of trendy words in there, but it will lose its power if no one can actually understand what you do and why you do it.
- DO: Change it over time as your company evolves and grows. Your company will evolve, and your mission statement should evolve along with it as needed.
- DON’T: Completely change your mission statement every year. You’ll cause confusion and lose your focus on core values and strengths.
Every organization needs a great mission statement—but creating one that really works is easier said than done. The effort is certainly worth it, however. Putting in the thought required to write a powerful statement of what your business does and why you do it leads to a more strategic direction for the company, a clearer connection with your customers, and more engaged and enthusiastic employees.
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