Think Snappy, Act Scrappy When Crafting A Mission Statement

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission – to make the world more open and connected.”

Mark Zuckerberg, (born May 14, 1984). Computer programmer, philanthropist, co-founder and CEO of Facebook

Mission Statement 2014-09-09


Why is the often-performed task of formulating mission statements so difficult to do and take so long? I’ll offer a couple reasons based on what I’ve seen in working with clients to develop missions and / or visions:

  • Complexity increases as the number of people involved increases.
  • Words have different meanings to different people. So, instead of forging ahead with the mission, or the vision, leaders get tangled in finding agreement on what words mean. What is a mission? How does it differ from a vision? Is collaboration a guiding principle or an operating principle?
  • With such a lofty goal to build a mission, leaders can get stuck in analysis paralysis. What if we don’t get this right? So many people will be impacted. What will they think if we get it wrong?

There are various reference materials available to help you craft mission statements. The effectiveness of these guides depends on a number of factors, including your thinking style and how your team works together. Let me offer three ideas aimed at getting you started NOW in building that mission statement for your organization. It is time to think snappy and act scrappy.



1. WHO: Involve fewer people in the initial stages of building the mission.

  • Consider having only you draft the first version. Then, open the gates wide to get others to provide their commentary. See how IBM CEO (2003 to 2011) Samuel Palmisano did this via his Values Jam in the Harvard Business Review article ‘Leading Change When Business Is Good.’
  • Have a core group of you come up with ideas to start with and agree to. Share with your larger teams and watch the words take on further shape and deeper meaning.

2. WHAT: Go simple.

  • Replace words that may have different meanings to different audiences. For instance, instead of asking ‘what is our mission?’, ask questions to probe simply, such as: Who are we? What is important to us? What are we about? Who do we serve? Why do we serve them? What drives us? How do we work together?
  • Decide on three words. This is the strategy I am employing now with a client.
  • Go with three bullet points instead of full sentences.
  • Decide to limit the mission statement to one sentence with no more than 15 words and two commas.
  • Start by working on another important team productivity document, such as a team charter that may provide a natural launching point for developing a mission.

3. HOW: Narrow the…

  • …focus from company to team or to you.
    As a leader in the organization, ask some of the simple questions noted above about yourself: Who am I? What is important to me? What am I about? Who do I serve? Why do I serve them? What drives me? How do I work with others?
  • …timeframe to pilot or try out a draft of the mission statement.
    Try out your words for a few months. Keep them posted for you to see every day. Pay attention to which words resonate with you. What words would you change. Come back as a group and continue the conversation about what mattered most to you over the three-month period.

So, get going on drafting or reevaluating your mission statement so that you are ready to share in January 2015. If you start now, you will be in a better place to having a more formal mission that you can confidently speak to and live by while encouraging others to do the same.

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Sandra Schwan

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