Mission statements are a paradox: the most popular management tool of the past 25 years and yet often the least respected. Chances are, as a retail glass company, you have one—framed nicely in the lobby perhaps—but can you recite it? Can your employees?
You might be tempted to dismiss a mission statement as mumbo-jumbo, but more than two decades of studying business success and failure has taught me that every company must be able to articulate its mission if it's going to be competitive.
A well crafted mission statement should clearly identify who your firm is, what it is trying to accomplish, and why customers would want to do business with your company as opposed to its competitors. A great mission statement will guide the actions and decisions of everyone within your organization, and focus the allocation of valuable time and resources.
One example of a great mission statement is that of Trainor Glass Co., Alsip, Ill. It reads: "To provide the highest value to our customers by offering outstanding service, quality products and competitive pricing; to provide regular training and shared information to all employees; to empower each person within the company framework; and to provide opportunities and incentives based on performance to our customers and to our company."
This mission statement clearly sets expectations regarding employee behavior and the relationship the company aims to have with its employees. Here, Trainor Glass recognizes the important role employees play in securing customer loyalty. Notice that the number of words devoted to employees is greater than the number devoted to customers.
Designing and implementing your statement
Mission statements can make a positive impact on an organization's bottom line, provided they are designed and implemented properly. Consider the following four questions. If you answer "no" to any of them, you are probably missing out on some of the advantages a mission statement can bring to your organization.
1. Did your mission development process involve a cross-section of key employees?
The successful implementation of your company's mission statement depends on buy-in from formal and informal leaders in your organization. A common employee criticism that I've heard is: "It's not my mission. I wasn't included in creating it and neither were any of my peers." Be sure to gather, consider and incorporate input from a wide variety of employees when crafting your statement.
2. Does your mission statement focus on customers and employees?
The most effective mission statements clearly and succinctly identify what the company strives to do for its customers and staff. It is especially important to reference employees in your statement. A good mission statement acts as a social contract between the company and its employees, stating what the company will do for employees in exchange for customer satisfaction. Trainor's mission statement is very clear in this respect: "to provide opportunities and incentives based on performance to our customers and to our company" and "to provide regular training and shared information to all employees."
When developing your mission statement, remember to take length into consideration. Do not include too many priorities or make your statement too long. Although there's no absolute rule regarding length, my research has shown that good mission statements run 60 to 80 words.
3. Do all of your employees know the mission statement?
If you have a mission statement, try writing it out right now. Then, ask your assistant and the new employee in the glass cutting room to do the same thing. Familiarity is the first step in any mission's successful implementation. The bottom line is, "If you can't say it, you can't live it!"
Keep the mission statement in front of your employees, or they will forget it. Constantly remind people about the mission, its importance and how they can contribute to its achievement.
4. Is your mission statement a part of your organization's daily life?
How often do you refer to your mission statement in meetings? To what extent are employees asked to relate their actions to the company's mission, especially in regards to their plans and budgets? Is your mission statement the basis for training, recruitment, promotion, reward and disciplinary program development? Do you systematically evaluate your progress against the mission?
Look with fresh eyes at your company's mission statement, using these four key questions as a guide. There's no doubt that if you align your mission with your resources, the result will be a highly successful organization.