Today I want to talk about a concept that’s fundamental to business success but that very few businesses take seriously, and even fewer individuals. We’re going to talk about mission statements. Or as one of my colleagues said – How to craft a mission statement that bleeds into everything you do.
But first, let me tell you about that time when I gained a speech impediment. No, not my accent, which is Romanian by the way so it’s been with me much longer than my speech impediment.
A corporate speech impediment…
I started my career doing digital marketing for a bank. A very very large bank. One of those that can’t fail. And I was doing a great job. But I was told I wasn’t a good communicator. Review after review. The refrain… I was too direct. I was opinionated.
In meetings, I was expressing opinions instead of shutting up. BTW this is the stuff women hear over and over again. I digress… I’m ambitious so I decided I was going to fix myself. Side note, don’t do what I did.
I was using big words and adding superfluous introductions to everything – “I may be totally wrong but if I may, and totally correct me if I’m wrong, but along the lines of what John said, you were spot on John, and Mary and Josh, and to add on to what Peter said, and by the way I love you guys, you are the best, and so I think we may want to consider this or that…” Instead of “Let’s try this and that.”
I was winning. I was winning so hard. And I was soooo bored.
And one day this guy says to me, “you have a corporate speech impediment.”
Wait, What? But I’m winning?
So, me being me, I go, I’m gonna fix this. So I grabbed this book, which is amazing by the way, “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots.” And I tried to undo the corporate damage.
Evasive language, dull, verbose, cliches, jargon, the book covers it all. We use broad, vague language even when that language is meant to be the keystone to everything else. We create mission statements that are broad or vague because it’s safe.
Being specific, having a point of view can be scary.
Not conforming is scary.
Being average feels safe.
How to Turn Your Mission Statement from Boring to Meaningful
Most business leaders get that we need to have a purpose, to have a mission and a vision. But when it comes to actually spelling those out, we default to platitudes. To cliches. To concepts that could mean any number of things, so they’re safe. Except that in a business sense, safety spells a slow death.
Let me give you some examples of what not to do:
- From the CEO of a large consumer goods company – “to apply ethical principles.” That should be a given. Unless you’re the godfather going through a rebrand, you’re expected to apply ethical principles.
- Another of my favorite ones is, “to be a leader.” Again, you’d better be a leader at something. It could be that you set the table better than anyone else. I don’t know. Pick something and decide that you’re gonna do it goddamn well.
Now, in their defense, it is very hard to put into one sentence all that drives you, and how and why.
Here’s how you bleed your mission statement into everything you do. Once you have a meaningful mission statement, you reflect it through all your content and everything you do. You expand on your statement with illustrations, through your blog posts, your social media posts, your ads and how you and your employees interact with the world.
Here are five elements of a great mission statement:
- It must start with a verb
- Answers the question – what do you want to be when you grow up?
- It should also state the change you want to make in the world (why you want to be that when you grow up).
- How your particular talents will help you make that change
- It can and must change with the times, but not every week.
I’m not an Oprah follower but I love her mission statement: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”
In business terms, we often hear of purpose, vision, and mission. The why, the what, the how. Some companies pack all three into their mission statement. P.S. check out Lightspan’s mission statement, specifically, what we stand by and the 13 values we uphold.
But to simplify it, what you need is an action statement that shows your reason for being.
- Why are you doing what you’re doing,
- What change do you hope to see in the world, and
- How you will make that change.
Oh but you’re just making widgets? You may hate me for saying this, but no one cares about your widgets.
- Why do you get up in the morning?
- Why do you sacrifice the little precious time you have with your family to work long hours and produce something?
Take the time this week to decide what you want to be when you grow up, why and how you’ll get there. And for Pete’s sake, stop speaking like an idiot.
Dare to have a point of view!
Then if you dare, share your mission statement with me in the comments.