watchA mission statement is a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual. Think of your mission statement as your business model, summarized into a few sentences. Anyone can write something down and title it their mission statement, but the key to an effective mission statement is thinking of it as a guide for your core business practices. Consider the wording in Microsoft’s statement:

At Microsoft, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible.

What is Microsoft trying to do? Why are their products designed the way they are? To help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. Inherent in that statement is a push for efficiency and having the tools that you need to thrive among your competitors. It is simple, yet provides a clear framework on which to conduct their business.

The Demise of Radio Shack

Now compare Microsoft’s mission statement to Radio Shacks’, which just filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and has been accused of getting “rocked by the digital revolution (Dealbook Newsletter)”:

Through its convenient and comfortable neighborhood stores, knowledgeable sales associates help customers get the most out of their technology products.

What is Radio Shack trying to do? What are their stores and services designed for? Helping us get the most out of our technology products. As simple and straightforward as this is, it lacks the vision that Microsoft embodies. It focuses too much on what they do and not enough on the underlying value that they deliver, or should deliver, to their customers. The shortsightedness isn’t necessarily the end-all to their problems, but tone is set at the top.  Think of how different things may have looked for them today if they had a mission statement similar to Microsoft’s 10 years ago.

Apple’s New Mission Statement

Now, compare both of those to Apple’s mission statement. A recent article in Business Insider has scrutinized Apple for its wording:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

This a quite a stark contrast to Microsoft, and even to Radio Shack. What is Apple trying to do? Why are their products designed the way they are? Who knows? This looks more like a list of products and a place for Apple to brag about their size and success, instead of a guide to help customers. This is interesting because Apple is still a large blue chip that is very successful, but it does highlight some fundamental changes since Steve Jobs passed.

Designing Your Mission Statement

Some of the poorest performing companies I’ve seen in Utah have no clear direction or goals. They either do not have a mission statement, it has been poorly constructed, or they wrote it once but never discuss it as a company. It’s like a ship setting sail across the ocean with no map. How are you suppose to make day to day decisions if you don’t know where you are going? Below, I have put together a short list of guidelines that I believe help most when writing a mission statement.

  • Try to clarify the underlying value or emotional appeal your product or service provides to customers and to all stakeholders
  • Don’t just think about your products, but think in terms of what kind of value they provide to your customers
  • What kind of vision do you have for your company? Where do you see it 10, 20, even 30 years down the road?
  • Think of it as a road map or guide, not just a simply of things you want to do or products that you offer
  • What are the principles that have made you successful so far, and how can you continue to implement them?

Do not underestimate the power of a well thought out mission statement, especially when the statement is interwoven throughout the culture of your business. Read it regularly. Have your employees memorize it.  Use specific phrases in company materials.  Above all else, embody the mission statement yourself.  No company will ever live by a mission statement if the key management at the top isn’t setting the right tone.