There's an old story about a man watching a bridge being built. He approaches one worker after another asking each of them
what they're doing. "I'm putting in my eight hours," says one. "I'm working on a team," says another. "I'm providing food
and shelter for my family," answers the third. The last man says, "I'm helping thousands of people travel safely to work then
return home to their loved ones."
They're all moving beams and swinging hammers. If the observer worked with them, he'd eventually see the job through their
eyes without posing the question. But by asking them directly, he quickly uncovers their values and motivations. He goes straight
into mission-statement territory: the underlying spirit and intent that form their daily activities.
Whenever I come across a well-crafted, thoughtful mission statement—one that's both succinct and dynamic—there's an immediate
sense of recognition. Aha! Got it! I have a mental picture of what you do and how you do it—insight! Unfortunately, most mission
statements either leave me groaning or finishing them inside my head with, "blah blah blah."
The most common problem with mission statements is a lack of focus. Throwing together a random array of adverbs and platitudes
will neither define nor motivate your team. In fact, if your mission statement is perceived as irrelevant or insincere, it
works against you.
Mission statements grow up
The mission statement became popular in the last 10 years or so largely because of the elegant simplicity of the concept.
Why wait for clients to draw conclusions about your practice when they can get it from the source? Why rely on others to interpret
who you are and what you do when you can state it outright? Mission statements give everyone—business owners, managers, staff
members, and clients—a reference point for expectations and direction.
Mission statements are the darling of business strategists. In fact, an entire industry has emerged to make sure you know
you must have one. Unfortunately, most mission statements have suffered as a result. The practice of writing them has been
both oversimplified and overcomplicated. There are consulting services, software programs, seminars, templates, and a wide
assortment of interactive tools designed to lead you click by click toward your own frameworthy declaration.
Some of these tools have merit, particularly in the early stages of identifying your practice message. But it's not always
easy to distinguish the legitimate tools from the parodies—a famous one being the "mission statement generator" at
http://Dilbert.com/, the online home of the Dilbert cartoon character. (Editor's Note: The mission statement generator isn't on the Web site
right now. Check to see if it comes back.) Remember: Good mission statements aren't one-size-fits-all.
These days, mission statements have become everything from egotistical free-for-alls to prepackaged templates. Some run one
or even two pages long. Some fit on a bumper sticker. Fortunately, good ideas have a way of outlasting the bandwagon. The
mission statement has emerged from its awkward teenage years with a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh ability to define
and energize day-to-day business. So why don't you have one?