Mission Statements: Who Needs Them?

I will admit, that in years past I was a mission statement basher. I considered mission statements to be exercises in futility and a waste of time. I’ve come to believe differently, with one big caveat:

The mission statement must reflect reality. Far too often it does not. And that can spell trouble from a variety of perspectives.

A mission statement is a statement that indicates the products and/or services a company provides and who they provide these products and services to. It is a statement of the current reality of the organization (unlike the vision statement which is forward-looking). From a strategic planning perspective, mission statements drive the creation of strategies and tactics that will be relevant for a business. If the mission statement doesn’t reflect reality, the choices made will be misinformed and, potentially, detrimental to the business.

Here’s how the process works (in abbreviated form):

  • Suppose a Wisconsin restaurant’s mission statement is: “We provide locally grown and sourced menu items to residents of XYZ county.”
  • The restaurant is working on its strategic plan. Someone recommends adding tuna to the menu because it has become a very popular item for consumers. Given the mission statement, though, this strategy should be dismissed. Why? Because tuna would not be locally grown or sourced in Wisconsin.
  • Now, the restaurant could decide to revisit its mission statement and modify it—that happens frequently enough, and it’s often appropriate because the environment we operate in is continually changing. The key, though, is ensuring that all strategies are aligned with the current, stated mission.

Do all organizations abide by this practice? Unfortunately, no. There are plenty of mission statements lining the walls of boardrooms around the country that do not reflect the current reality of the organization—and plenty of strategies that are not truly aligned with the stated mission statement.

But, it’s never too late to revisit the mission statement with an eye toward ensuring its accuracy and appropriateness. In fact, the mission statement should be reviewed and reaffirmed on a regular basis. Things change, organizations change—as they do, organizations need to ensure that their mission statements are still accurate reflections of what they do and who they serve.


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