Svyatoslav Biryulin
Mission statement - a practical guide
Answer four crucial questions
When the characters of the Silicon Valley series present their products, they talk about customer experience or disruptive innovations, but at the end of their speeches, they, as if they almost forgot, mutter something like "And we, of course, would like to make the world a better place to live." They say it as if it is obligatory, and, from my point of view, it sounds insincerely.

Some believe that mottos such as "make the world a better place to live" can motivate people and spark innovations. But many of us were raised in cultures where such bold and loud statements are frowned upon. I have conducted many strategic workshops in different countries and have seen that frequently people feel it difficult to admit and accept that their work changes the world for the better. "Our firm is not an international giant like Google or Apple," they say. "We don't change the world, and we only sell nuts and bolts (beverages, car parts, coffee, etc.) locally. We just do our job."

Every company needs a mission statement, but it needs one that may be accepted and shared by team members.
Why do we need a mission statement?

I have already posted an article about typical mistakes leaders make while formulating a mission statement (MS). In this article, I will try to share my experience creating mission statements for the companies I managed as a CEO and helping my customers find the words for their MSs.

But we should start with a question – why do we need a mission statement? Its development requires time and effort. What value does it create for a business? I have already partly answered this question previously; just to recap:

1. Employees spend more time at work than they do with their beloved ones

2. They want their work time and the effort they make to be meaningful and rewarding

3. Helping other people is a natural instinct inherent to all humans

Therefore, employees need a unifying idea, a basis that could help them feel that the sacrifice they make by spending lion's share of their lifetime at work brings them something besides a pay check. And a mission statement may be of much help.

Four crucial questions

For me, a mission statement should contain answers to four questions:

1. For whom do we work? Who's life becomes better because of our effort?

2. What do we suggest to them? What value does our work create for these people?

3. How do we make it possible? What features let us be unique?

4. Why do we need it? What would we like to change in the world around us by doing our job well?

Let's illustrate all four questions with an example. Imagine a company developing software, a computer program used by other businesses, so the firm operates in a B2B industry.

Who is a customer? For whom the company works?

It is tempting to assert that the company satisfies the needs of other "companies" for reliable, user-friendly software helping them to run their businesses. But there are three objections against this approach:

1. Enterprises don't have needs. A "firm" is an artificial entity created by people that exist only in our imagination (re-read the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari to learn more). Only humans have needs

2. A firm can't be satisfied or dissatisfied - only people can

3. Therefore, our employees can't be inspired by the idea that they help "companies," but they may be motivated knowing they help people.

Who are those people? There may be different answers to this question. It might be IT specialists working for a customer's firm, end users, or C-Suite executives, but this answer must be found and clearly specified. So, it may sound like "we help end users of our software waste less time on routine and devote it to interesting and creative jobs".

What do we offer them?

I wouldn't recommend answering this question by saying that we provide them with the software because it is nothing more than a tool to solve some other tasks. I would rather say that the company provides its customers with a unique solution to their problems. It also makes sense to add a couple of distinctive features that our solution has; for instance, it may be reliable, user-friendly, customised, or the cheapest on the market.

How do we make it possible? What differentiates us from our competitors?

Answering this question, we may mention traits distinguishing us from many other teams in the market. For example, we may state that we are the most creative, customer-centric, or flexible. You may use any adjectives as long as they are true.

Why do we need it?

All four questions are essential, but this one is the most critical because it reinforces the emotional tone of our mission statement. And we should be careful in finding this answer. If we try to persuade our workers that they "change the world", they may feel that we've lost touch with reality. An average, local company doesn't change the global world, and if the employees don't see any connection between their everyday routine and the answer, this mission statement won't fulfill its purpose - it won't inspire them.

But progress is not driven by major companies only. A corner shop, a small cafe, and a shoe repair service can make our small, cozy world a better place to live. If a company has customers who buy its products, it means they see value in these products or services. And this is the reason enough for the employees to be proud of their work.

So, for my example, I would recommend using a statement like this: "We want the end users of our software not to waste time on boring tasks and unleash their energy and creativity for inspiring and rewarding work that will help them feel happy."
Some more tips

1. A mission statement mustn't be eye-catching or captivating; it is not a motto or a slogan. The "end users" of the MS are employees, not customers or business partners. It is nice to put it on your corporate website or in presentations, but it is not what MS exists for.

2. An MS may be created by a team of C-suite managers or by the founders, but it should be tested before it is officially accepted. I ordinarily recommend organising an internal survey and asking employees two questions: "Do you understand what the MS says?" and "Do you feel inspired by the MS?". If the answers to both questions are "yes," the chances are that it will work. Otherwise, you need to refine or fine-tune it.

3. The MS should convey the truth about your company. Try not to sugarcoat the reality; for instance, if your company isn't quite customer-focused so far, don't mention it in the mission statement. Your employees won't buy such an MS, and all the effort will be in vain. Correct it when you improve your customer service.

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