The mission statement is something very different from the business plan. Mission statements set the moral and human goals to which your company is supposed to aspire. In many cases, they also state higher order business goals, such as a corporate commitment to maintaining an annual compounded rate of growth of a certain percentage.
Mission statements are most often associated with large corporations—an effort to get thousands of people to pull in the same direction across a far-flung corporate empire. But I think a mission statement is a good thing for a small business as well, and it’s something that should be developed at the outset.
The mission statement clearly tells employees what behaviors are expected of them and describes the kind of treatment they can expect from their employer. Most people have a strong desire to know the rules of the game. In addition, they want to be proud of the company for which they work. The mission statement gives them at least one piece of the puzzle.
This is also the best reason not to have a mission statement if you don’t intend to follow it. There’s nothing more poisonous than to have the management thumping away on some ethical tub, and at the same time acting in ways that directly contradict the espoused values. If you can’t walk it, don’t talk it!
The mission statement, like the business plan, is a useful tool for triangulation and mid-course correction. Take it off the shelf every once in a while, and see if you’re living by it. (Better yet: look at the framed version on your office wall.) And when you face a tough choice, look at that statement again for guidance. To the extent that your mission statement contains concrete business goals, make sure that you either (1) achieve those goals, or (2) acknowledge that you aren’t achieving them and take steps to bring the company’s performance into line with its aspirations.
You may not spend a lot of time on your mission statement, but you should clearly set the tone for the kind of company you’re trying to create and sustain. Culture comes from the top—that is, from you. How accessible will you be to your employees? Will you truly listen to their input, or will you just pay lip service to their ideas? What are your expectations from everyone, especially in the realm of building trust? How will your company treat its customers? What are its attitudes toward quality?
Part of the point of the mission statement is the process as well as the product. If you involve other people in the development of the mission statement, you’re already sending a signal about your culture.
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