Effective Mission Statements

Keeps You Energized and On Course

By Paul Jermain, Business Consultant, leads an Entrepreneurial Training Program for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in partnership with Northern Essex Community College in Lawrence, MA.

Mission statements are among the most powerful tools that you can develop and use in your small business. Unfortunately, these tools are commonly among the most overlooked and misapplied ones as well. Simple, effective mission statements can help you “stay the course” and maintain your energy through challenging times.

Properly crafted mission statements, based on your personal and work values, document your company’s purpose or reason for being. In this role, they can stimulate very different behaviors. For example, imagine two police departments, housed in adjacent buildings that have the same number and type of officers, equipment, and resources. One department is told that their mission is to prevent crime. The other is told that their mission is to enforce the law. Given a common situation such as roadway speed control, the first department might put up road side signs which flash car speeds, while the second department might conceal their cars and radar guns behind large billboards. As the example highlights, two virtually identical organizations can take dramatically different directions when driven by different missions.

Now, just as houses are built on solid foundations made of stone or cement, small business mission statements are based on core personal and work values. Your values are represented by qualities and behaviors which are naturally important to you such as: adventure, creativity, education, hard work, innovation, order, problem-solving, relationships, self-expression, wealth, etc. These values, once identified, provide the foundation for a simple, but effective and powerful mission statement.

Some people are keenly aware of their core values, while others are not. If you fall into the latter category, an effective, time-proven, approach is to write a couple of short stories on “peak experiences” in your life. You might pick one from your personal life and another from your business activities. The stories do not need to be lengthy; three to four paragraphs will do, but try to make them as descriptive as possible. Invest perhaps 30-45 minutes in writing them, perhaps during a lunch break. Then, once the stories are finished, review them with an eye towards values similar to those outlined above. Value lists are easily accessible over the Internet. If you have a willing friend or business associate, share the stories with them to learn of their feedback.

The idea is to create a list by identifying four or five personal values, and the same number of business values. And, then to pare the list down to three to four business-related values, recognizing that values which bridge the personal and business worlds are often the most critical to capture. After the prioritized list is established, take those values and draft a single sentence mission statement.

Recently an entrepreneur that I was working with wrote a story around helping an elderly couple navigate some health-care insurance issues. The story illuminated some of her key values such as dignity, empathy, and respect for elders.  Her mission statement for her senior care service business, created to help seniors downsize from large houses and relocate, was “Provide downsizing and relocation services to seniors in a caring, respectful manner which recognizes the dignity of the individuals involved.”

Another entrepreneur that adopted this process to the development of an effective mission statement penned a story that revolved around her role in high school as a journalist. The story illuminated her values of accuracy, education, decisiveness, and truth. Her mission statement, designed to support her new business as an independent information professional, was “Deliver accurate information to business clients that educates them on key areas in which they plan to make important business decisions.”

Your story will be unique to you and reflect your core values. When these are wrapped up into a single sentence mission statement, the effect will be profound. It will serve as a constant reminder to your employees and customers of key business values, which can make a real difference when dealing with “gray” area problems that require non-textbook decisions. Perhaps even more importantly, the mission statement, by reminding you of why you started the business in the first place, will enable you to stay true to your original reasoning and keep you connected to your most important values, serving as a source of emotional energy when things get tough.  As many an entrepreneur has remarked, “It wasn’t the fancy accounting that got me through, it was my mission statement.”  Don’t ignore the power of this important business tool-write some stories, create a values list and wrap them up in a powerful mission statement; you’ll be glad you did.