What follows is an excerpt from the book Understanding and Creating Vision and Mission Statements by Dobri Stojsic and Barry Linetsky, available from amazon.
A mission statement is not advertising copy for your company nor an elevator pitch.
It is a common perspective amongst leaders that an organizational statement of purpose must be short and memorable. They think that a good statement of purpose in the form of a vision and mission should be snappy and motivating like the world’s greatest marketing slogans or brand tag lines.
What these executives are never able to validate is why this is better or more important than a more comprehensive statement that explains the purpose of the business including: the aspirations of its owners and CEO; the benefits it aspires to brings to consumers, customers, employees, investors, and often the wider communities in which they operate; the behaviors that will make the company successful in winning customers, adapting to changes, and remaining profitable; and how it will measure success.
In the Painless Strategic Planning process we have engaged in with clients for over 25 years, we consider the vision and mission statements combined, along with an articulation of values, as a broad statement of purpose intended to address these important elements of defining the nature of the business at hand. Questions of purpose must be answered before one even has a business, be it business-to-business or business-to-consumer, and the agreed upon purpose must be stated and articulated for others (investors, board members, executives and staff, consumers, suppliers) to understand. They serve a fundamental business purpose of definition, guidance, and resource alignment.
If the goal is to clearly, yet broadly, articulate the purpose of an organization, what it stands for, who it serves, and how it goes about its work, then it’s going to take more than a few words in a pithy slogan. Setting out the proper context and content of purpose must be comprehensive in guiding others towards decisions and actions that will achieve the aspirational goals being sought. That the purpose of an organization can be summarized in a slogan-like memorable sentence or two is beside the point. In our opinion “short and memorable” are not valid criteria or a meaningful test for the legitimacy or quality of a corporate vision or mission. It seems that advocates of slogans as mission statements have reversed form and function in a situation in which function must take priority.
Don’t get us wrong. We agree that a statement of purpose that is motivating is important. And we believe that a vision statement, because it is inherently aspirational, lends itself to capturing the essence of that aspiration in a single sentence or phrase. But short and memorable are neither necessary nor sufficient for proper motivation. A better question to ask is: Can the vision and mission statement combined together as a statement of corporate purpose with appropriate context-setting backup and explanation provide guidance to its readers as to whether this is a company I would want to work for, do business with, or support?
Short, memorable and motivating are important, but in our opinion that is a separate and later question about how to communicate the corporate purpose and related components like values of the culture and a competitive stance to those the organization wants to influence. Once formulated, how best to communicate this information can be passed over to the marketing department or advertising agency to drive a communications campaign. At this point, a slogan-like statement may be created and communicated to act as a conceptual shorthand or placeholder for the more complete and complex doctrine.
Summarizing the organization’s purpose in a slogan has its place and importance, but first it has to be determined, articulated, shared, and valued by those whose thought and actions it is meant to serve and guide. What we see as ‘sloganistic’ statements on websites and posted for consumer consumption in marketing communications and posted on retail store walls is more often a corporate PR exercise than it is an effective act of corporate governance and leadership.
© 2020, Barry L. Linetsky & Dobri J. Stojsic. All Rights Reserved.
Barry Linetsky is a Partner with The Strategic Planning Group in Toronto, Canada, where he and Founding Partner Dobri Stojsic have been helping executives and owners define and align their business purpose with customer values since 1994. Barry is the author of the acclaimed book The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press), and an Honorary Disney History Institute historian. His most recent books are No Choice But To Choose: Confronting the New Assault on Human Agency and Achievement in Business, and Understanding and Creating Vision and Mission Statements, with Dobri Stojsic. Barry is also a writer, photographer, researcher, analyst, and business strategy enabler. Read his blog and learn more at barrylinetsky.com.