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“You know what really grinds my gears?” Peter Griffin was sometimes brilliant in his assessment of pop culture. In the business industry there are similar aggravations, and for me it is bad mission statements. Crafting a mission statement and installing it as an organizational culture may be the single most important defining feature of a business that intends to grow or replicate itself successfully. Creating one is a task requiring considerable thought and effort, yet many mission statements still fail to energize a workforce or communicate clearly to a consumer. Why do they miss their mark?

Susan Ward does a great job of creating a simple template for the key components of a mission statement:  What, How, and Why. She also touches briefly upon something that I feel is the real key. The mission statement is more than a slogan, more than a description, even more than a passion. It is a duty, a responsibility, it is truly a “mission” that every employee in the organization from top to bottom needs to feel compelled to accomplish. One of the most unique books I read last year was Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, two ex-Navy Seals. In their military experience, failing at a mission meant death and destruction. Nobody under their command had any problem seeing the importance of successfully completing the mission at hand. A mission statement is not primarily written for your customer or for your marketing efforts. While the what, how, and why are a great way to structure it, the mission statement must be so much more. It must be honest and straight-forward. It must be easy for any employee of the organization to identify with and contribute to daily. Most importantly it must elicit a call to duty.

“To protect, promote, and improve the health of all people in Florida…” That statement is not conspicuously displayed on the Florida Department of Health’s official website. It is not something you see in the media interviews or on the billboards, but every employee within the department from pharmacy inspectors to contract reviewers know their job is important in accomplishing the overall mission. If you ask employees within the department, they may not recite it verbatim, but they will relay that their mission is protecting and improving the health of people in their state. They don’t make a lot of money. They don’t have a chance of fame or fortune through their efforts, but they are dedicated to an important mission.

By comparison, large corporations need for employees to have the same mindset as the founder and C-level leadership. Usually at that level the core mission is profitability, lean operations, stellar customer service, managing risks, growing market share, etc. Below are two mission statements from big box lumber yards. These mission statements most likely took teams of people and considerable investment to get just perfect, but are they… perfect? Are they written so an employee is driven to accomplish their mission in the face of adversity, no matter how simple or insignificant their role might seem? If you walk into one of these stores tomorrow, and you ask an employee on the floor what the mission of their organization is, do you think you will hear something similar to the quotes below?

“The Home Depot is in the home improvement business and our goal is to provide the highest level of service, the broadest selection of products and the most competitive prices. … Excellent customer service. Taking care of our people. Giving back.”

“Customer service and community service are core commitments at Lowe’s — and they have been for more than 60 years. Being a good neighbor means being committed to improving the places our employees and customers call home. We see that as an investment in our future. We’ve grown that investment as Lowe’s has grown from a small-town hardware store in North Wilkesboro, N.C., to the second-largest home improvement retailer in the world.”

It isn’t enough to have the what, how, or even why. There needs to be a duty factor that gives an employee the drive to accomplish something difficult, and the pride to recite the mission to their friends when asked why they do what they do. The mission should be in the forefront of their decision making when stocking a shelf, balancing invoices, or speaking to an irate customer.

Make sure your organization’s mission statement is a driving force that a culture can rally around during hard times and lean on when they start to question why they work so hard for what often seems like so little.

 

Scott Flowers is an insurance agent, business consultant, and leadership author. Follow him on Twitter at @TheScottFlowers and read more about him on LinkedIn.