Do We Really Need a Mission Statement?
A mission statement is often misunderstood and misrepresented in organizations. It is really very simple. A mission statement answers the question, "What are we trying to accomplish today"? Having a mission statement to clarify and communicate why you exist helps integrate the values and vision of an organization into a whole picture.
In his book, "Principle-Centered Leadership", Steven Covey explains it this way:
"Most executives do not realize what is involved in creating a mission statement that truly represents deeply shared values and vision at all levels of the organization. It takes patience, a long-term perspective, and meaningful involvement - and few organizations rank high in those virtues. Many organizations have a mission statement, but typically people are not committed to it because they are not involved in developing it; consequently it is not part of the culture. Culture, by definition assumes shared vision and values, as represented by a mission statement put together and understood and implemented by all levels of the organization."
A good mission statement is important because it lets everyone know what he or she is supposed to be doing now to move toward the vision. If your mission was to win more than 80% of your games in pursuit of a vision to be the best rugby team in North America in 2 years, you would be hard pressed to support singing lessons for all players. The mission helps you test the sanity of proposed actions. Is this action really supporting the mission?
Constructing a mission statement is a team effort similar to the final phases of the vision work, but with a different focus. The mission statement is focused on today. It clarifies what you are doing now, while the vision statement is focused on the future. For example, if your completed mission statement begins with "Our mission is to become...." (a typical wording), you are mixing the concepts of mission and vision.
Usually, the mission is derived from a list of brainstorm items obtained in a group session. Once everyone has an opportunity to express their opinions, the group can have a pithy discussion on forging an operative, non-ambiguous mission statement. It is fine for a mission statement to contain a few key bullets, but avoid a long shopping list. The mission is there to provide focus. If the end product has more than four items, it should be challenged. For example, a good mission statement is provided by Southwest Airlines. "The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit."
The mission forms a basis for the strategic plan. As a thumbnail version of the strategic plan, it helps people recognize how their actions lead to accomplishing the plan. Developing the mission statement and strategic plan is an iterative process that bounces back and forth until both are consistent and lead to the vision.
For people not in formal leadership roles, the mission statement is just as important. It allows you to test the validity of current actions. If your actions often deviate from the mission, it's time to revisit what you are doing. Something is out of kilter.