A mission statement can inspire and fulfill a unique role in your strategic management toolkit, but they often play a boring role in the organizations that have them.
I confess, I too tend to overlook the mission statement when developing strategy with leadership teams, but it is NOT because I don't understand their strategic importance. It is because when given the chance, groups tend to want to spend our precious strategic thinking time wordsmithing. Take it from me, there is NOTHING more wasteful than having an organization's highest paid talent or most valuable volunteers spend 30 (or more) minutes debating a few words in a perfectly fine mission statement.
Confession aside, mission statements are not used to their full potential. Here is how to leverage them more fully in your strategic management box of tools.
The mission statement should stay constant over time. If it is written correctly and based on a deep sense of purpose and authentic need it should last 10 -15 years. The vision can evolve and change as the environment changes and as you get closer to achieving it. But the mission statement should be a constant WHY statement for an entity.
Here are the ways they are put to the best use:
Making a Decision to Flex: When examining a new opportunity or shift in the strategic direction, the mission statement is used as a decision-filter. It helps focus new ideas with the question: is this (the new idea) in alignment with our mission or is it for another entity? Not all new ideas are winners, but not all winning ideas are for your organization. In times of tremendous change or if a market is highly dynamic, the mission (your why) and vision (the what you are striving to achieve) statements can help leadership teams stay true to their goals, so they don’t fall into the destructive pattern of trying to be all things to all people.
Communicating with External Audiences: Many elements of your strategic plan are confidential, but the Mission Statement is the one that entities can and do share widely. This means that you can use it to introduce your firm and tailor your message for each external stakeholder group based on a core central theme, your mission or purpose statement. This may sound insignificant, but it is not. Here is an example of how to use the mission statement for partnering:
Creating partnerships and building business allies are essential to success, especially today with our shortening cycles. Rarely do entities have time to develop new competencies; they usually have to buy them. But partnerships may only be a short-term tactic to get you from zero to 4 on a scale of 1 - 10. However, you won’t find the best partner or be able to strike the best partnership arrangement if your potential partner knows you have a short-term goal for this arrangement. The mission statement is a highly visible statement of strategic intent that can be shared with partners to attract and vet possible candidates.
The Foundation of Culture: The mission statement serves as a constant reminder of strategic intent: the why. When organizations build a strong culture, it based on core beliefs embedded in the language of this intention: the mission statement.
Review your mission statement. Can it serve you in all three areas? If not, take the time to think more deeply about it and reword it.