Imagine that you’re a combat soldier, dropped right into the middle of a hot battle. You’re hunkered down with your squad behind a little hut. The rattle of machine gun fire fills your ears, the sharp smell of spent gunpowder lingers in the air. Every so often you feel the impact in your chest from yet another explosion going off somewhere nearby.
Your commanding officer’s voice cuts through the noise as he yells to make himself heard. Yes! At least someone has a plan to get us out of this mess! Over the din, you hear him yell, “Here’s the plan - we’re going to run out there with our weapons and be soldiers! Let’s go!”
Worthless! Your squad is doomed. Will the mission succeed? What in the world is the mission?!
Sadly, many business owners operate in the same way all the time. They give themselves and their team a vague idea of what they’re trying to accomplish. Then they throw themselves into the grind of business with no clear mission.
You need a mission statement
I know, I know. “Mission statement” probably makes you think of some corporate mumbo-jumbo. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about clarity for you and your team. A precise and short statement that gives you clear direction, purpose, and objectives. A well-written mission statement gives you something you can always look back to and be reminded of exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and why it matters.
Sometimes it’s easier to learn what something is by first learning what it is not - we need a counterexample. In the case of a business mission statement, it is not something you use to simply check some corporate box or so that you have something to put in a folder somewhere and forget about.
Here are some counter-examples:
- Continuing our battle story, what if our mission statement was something like, “We are working to be great soldiers and defend our nation”?
- This doesn’t inspire anyone! It’s vague and it doesn’t align anyone in a specific direction or tell us exactly what we’re expected to achieve. What does it mean to “be great soldiers”? And how are we going to “defend our nation”? What are we defending it from?
- Or a small business mission statement: “We exist to please our customers by providing great service and high-quality products that solve our customer’s problems”.
- Again, does this really inspire anyone? Does it bring clarity to exactly what we’re doing or why it matters? No! Yet this is exactly what many think of when they hear “mission statement”.
Instead, a mission is a crystal clear statement to yourself and your team about what you’re trying to accomplish, why it matters, and how you’ll know if you’ve succeeded.
Without a clear mission statement, you’re planning for chaos and waste
If you don’t provide this clarity, your team and your business will be left floundering. You and your team will be left guessing:
- where is the business trying to go?
- what should they be doing to help contribute to progress?
- why does the destination matter in the first place?
- what exactly are they trying to accomplish and when is the deadline?
When you and your team are guessing, this can lead to all sorts of waste which can slow down or even kill a small business.
You’ll suffer from distraction and unproductive work. If the mission isn’t clear you may see lots of activity, but don’t confuse activity with productivity. They’re not necessarily the same.
You’ll waste time. And time is generally representative of the single greatest expense for any business - the humans you’re paying to help you accomplish your goals are paid according to time. It’s critical that your time and your team’s time is being used wisely and productively toward the things that matter most for the business.
Time has another element of waste - opportunity cost. If you or your team are spending lots of energy on things that don’t actually matter, you cannot get that time back. But you could have been investing that time and energy in more valuable, more productive ways. The opportunity was wasted on something else.
Returning to those counter-examples from earlier: what are the teams that do not have a clear mission statement supposed to do? Well, none of them really knows what they’re supposed to do. But I can tell you what they will do - they’ll run around in many different directions like headless chickens. They may appear to be busy, but they’re unlikely to deliver any results that actually matter.
Your mission statement should give your business extreme operational clarity
When you get this right you and your team will feel a deep sense of purpose. A good mission statement will bring clarity to exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and when you’re trying to achieve it by.
Good mission statements empower you and your team to solve problems that are getting in the way of accomplishing the mission. You’ll see less waste and deep focus. You’ll see creativity blossom as well - both you and your team will begin to reverse engineer solutions because they understand the objective.
And, you’ll know if you’re winning or losing. Good mission statements actually provide a scoreboard: are we making measurable progress toward the things we’re working to achieve?
Do not skip this foundational step in setting up your business for growth and success. Write a mission statement. Yesterday.
A good mission statement is simple and memorable
Let’s give our soldiers from earlier a better mission statement:
Here’s the plan, squad - we are going to secure that bridge, clear a path to the next town, and set up a defensive perimeter by 1400 tomorrow because our supply convoy is coming through and they are depending on us to keep them safe.
Do you see the difference?! Every single person in the squad now knows exactly what they’re trying to accomplish, why it’s important, and the deadline for getting it done.
And here’s the beauty: when every person in the squad knows exactly what they’re trying to accomplish they will all get to work developing a concrete tactical plan to finish the mission. Individuals will identify obstacles to securing the bridge. Others will propose some creative solutions for getting around those obstacles.
When the squad finally steps out from behind the hut, no one is going to run around like a headless chicken. Every single person will know exactly what to do.
Will the tactical plan be perfect? Probably not. Will the squad have to improvise along the way. Absolutely yes. Will the objective remain clear? Yes.
So, what does this look like for a small business? I really like Donald Miller’s formula for a mission statement:
We will accomplish X by Y because of Z
Let’s break that down a bit.
“We will accomplish X”
Here you should list two or three financial or economic objectives that would be deeply impactful for the business. It’s important that these are growth-oriented because ultimately your business needs cash and growth to survive.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is optional. Setting a deadline is an incredibly important element of a mission statement. A deadline creates a sense of shared urgency and will promote both creativity and parameters for the solutions you’ll come up with to achieve your objectives. In general, you should select a time horizon that is somewhere in the six month to a year and a half range. Anything shorter probably isn’t ambitious enough and anything longer will feel too far out and not urgent.
“because of Z”
This endows your mission with a sense of deeper purpose and meaning. It answers the underlying and fundamental human question, “Why does this matter?” We are all hardwired to need purpose and the questions we are all asking ourselves are, “Why am I here? Does what I’m working on matter?” Your answer to “because of Z” may not answer all of life’s questions, but it can definitely answer that question for the vocational domain for you and your team.
So what might a good mission statement for a business look like?
If you own a plumbing company, your mission statement might be
We will grow our annual revenue to $1 million, establish 3 new subcontractor partnerships, and launch our new plumbing health audit to 40 homeowners by July 1 because homeowners deserve to have dependable plumbing that they never need to worry about.
If you run a brick and mortar antique store, your mission statement might look like
We will generate $20,000 in revenue from our new online store, grow our email list to 700 subscribers, and grow our annual revenue to $250,00 by December 31 because antique lovers deserve to add high-quality classic pieces to their homes and collections for a reasonable price.
Create a clear mission for your business
This is easily something you can sit down and accomplish in a half day of focused on the business time. Once you’ve written your mission statement, share it with your team (if you have one). If the mission you’ve come up with doesn’t get you and your team excited, then you’re not done yet. Your mission should matter to you and get you fired up.
You’re not going to get this perfect the first time you do it, and that’s ok! Don’t overcomplicate it. Keep it simple. The very process of writing this down is going to bring clarity and focus for you and your business. Your first version might even be as simple as
We will sign up 10 new customers for our premium service plan by December 1.
And once you’ve written this down, you need to review this daily! Start every day by reminding yourself and your team of the mission you’re on. Figure out ways to measure your progress and hold yourself accountable.
Don’t settle for “we’re going to run out there and be soldiers”! Give your business the clarity of “secure the bridge, clear the path to the next village, defend the convoy by tomorrow because they’re counting on us!” Then step back and watch the ingenuity of yourself and your team as you all rally to accomplish the mission. I promise: your business will grow.
PS: If you need help putting your mission statement together, I run a half day mission workshop. You’ll walk away with a complete mission statement that you can use to give your business and your team the clarity and direction you deserve. Set up a free call today to learn more.