Is it time to rethink the mission statement?

We’ve all heard our share of corporate mission statements. We’ve all seen them boldly emblazoned on a poster, in a handbook, or on a wallet card. Heck, some of us have probably even written them. A recent experience at Kennedy Space Center got me thinking about the way companies typically use the mission statement, and whether or not it is as effective as it could be.

Many of the mission statements I have seen are ahead-looking, just-out-of-reach statements that are intended to inspire people to continually strive for excellence in the pursuit of the overall goal.

That’s fine, except when you never actually REACH a goal, it can be pretty discouraging.

That synapse fired during my visit to KSC when our tour guide kept talking about the missions that NASA planned and completed, including Apollo 13, which was dubbed a “successful failure”.  The point that I got from this was… these missions all had one thing in common: an end.

They had a mission to go to the moon.  Check.

They had a mission to build a space station.  Check.

The corporate world got a hold of this concept, and we now have mission statements that look like this:

Our Mission: to deliver unparalleled care to our clients with employees who exceed all expectations of quality and cooperation and provide amazingly unbelievable returns to our shareholders.

Where do I put the check mark? How do I know when the mission is complete?

The real disconnect I have noticed is in translating that high flying goal into specific behaviors and tangible results.  Without a specific strategy, mission statements like this often dwell in the black hole of “I think we have a mission statement… something about making money and quality clients…”

And if that’s the case, your mission is doomed to fail.  Too many people have different ideas of what the mission means, if they think of it at all.

Case in point…

While in line to board the tour bus at KSC, a photographer gave us a “mission”.  Put your hands over your ears.

YourPhoto2We all did it, but clearly we had our own ideas of what we should be doing and why.  I thought we should be acting as if the shuttle was really right behind us, pumping out a deafening roar.  Apparently, I was alone in this interpretation.

But that’s my point – an unclear mission leads to haphazard performance.

For the record, I am not saying you shouldn’t have a mission, or a statement that encapsulates the essence of what we are trying to accomplish. But, we do have to be prepared for people to interpret it however they see fit if:

  • It’s so nebulous and full of jargon and non-speak that no one can understand it, or…
  • If the behaviors that uphold it are not role modeled or reinforced.

Is it time to rethink the mission statement?  If yours is incomprehensible, I would say yes.  If yours is easily understood, but people aren’t abiding by it, then it’s time to rethink the way you support it.

Remember, it’s not just a statement, it’s your mission.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt’s mission statement for Performance Optimist Consulting is “Helping Leaders Lead”.  Leaders are supposed to lead, but sometimes they need some help, and that’s where Matt comes in – delivering interactive keynotes, customized training workshops and individual coaching.  Need help figuring out how to get your leaders to support your mission?  That’s one of Matt’s specialties!


4 thoughts on “Is it time to rethink the mission statement?

  1. A great article and food for thought. Often when I work with organisations I can’t believe some of the mission/vision statements they have.

  2. Hello, i believe that i noticed you visited my website thus i got here to return the favor?.I am trying to find things to improve my website!I guess its adequate to make
    use of a few of your concepts!!

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