A mission statement can be a great tool for reminding your employees about why your organisation exists and why anyone should bother to get out of bed every day to turn up to work there.

However, “Purpose, Mission, vision, values, guiding principles” are some of the most overused and ill understood words in the modern corporate vocabulary. It is not uncommon to see the eyes of leaders and managers roll at the very mention of another “mission and strategy away day”.

Why do people get cynical about mission statements?

As an illustration of the general cynicism associated with the concept of corporate mission, one of my favourites “tools” was the “Dilbert random mission generator” (which sadly went offline in 2008). After inputting just a few words about your organisation, the random mission generator could throw out a paragraph of uncannily familiar bespoke BS about it such as:

“We will assertively and completely facilitate advantages for diverse and innovative products in parallel with our clients’ needs to seamlessly and collaboratively utilise access to mission-critical and market-driven deliverables without losing sight of our original goal to authoritatively negotiate parallel and competitive intellectual capital.”

Does this sound familiar? … and how come we’ve ended up in this position?

Is your mission statement gathering dust on the wall? …and has it become a meaningless part of the corporate wallpaper that never really gets talked about?

Most importantly, how can you avoid this trap?

How to write a mission statement that doesn’t suck

Well, Dan Heath’s excellent video “How to write a mission statement that doesn’t suck” captures all of the worst pitfalls we face when trying to craft such a statement collaboratively and offers some tips on how to avoid them:

To sum up what Dan Heath is saying in the video:

  1. The process usually involves the neutralisation of the initial statement to average-up the words until all meaning is leached away
  2. The language is made politically correct to include all the latest buzzwords and jargon that are doing the rounds in the organisation
  3. To avoid this, we need to use concrete language in our mission statements… words that actually mean something.
  4. We need to talk about the “why?” What makes you care and why should others care about your organisation? Make your mission statement more about “mission” and less about “statement”
  5. And, if your mission contains the word “solution”, you need to revisit it!

Going beyond words

I would challenge you to take it a stage further though. Why stick to a “statement”? Your mission should be a story that your leaders can articulate to their teams. It should be a story that explains how you believe your organisation makes the world a better place for your customers or end-users. It should articulate how your employees contribute to this and how their efforts make a difference every day and why they should care. It should form the basis for conversations at all levels about the direction and values of your organisation.

Next month’s theme for our blogs will all be about using stories and visual communications.  We will be revealing the secrets behind our “Learning Maps”, which are tools we develop for clients to help them to communicate their organisation’s purpose as a story to the people who work in it. This award-winning approach has delivered unprecedented levels of improvement in employee engagement and employee survey results. If you can’t wait, have a look at our Learning Map page here.