Why do Mission Statements Matter?

Yesterday I was writing mission statements.  It wasn’t easy.  We ended up with something that was designed by a committee, stuffed full of adverbs and instantly forgettable.  Very frustrating

A good mission statement makes a difference, it tells people what you stand for, what your purpose is.  It is something to engage with.  Read these, see what you think:

The good

Walt Disney

“to make people happy”


“to organise the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful”


“to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”

The bad

General Motors

“to be the world leader in transportation products and related services”


“to serve the world’s most engaged community”

The ugly

Exxon Mobil

“to be the world’s premier petroleum and petrochemical company. To that end, we must continuously achieve superior financial and operating results while adhering to the highest standards of business conduct. These unwavering expectations provide the foundation for our commitments to those with whom we interact”

I think it safe to say you aren’t all clambering to work for Exxon

Write a better mission statement

Is your mission statement:

  1. Clear: is it absolutely unambiguous?
  2. Guiding: does it provide direction when you don’t know what to do?
  3. Short: will anybody ever remember it?
  4. Outward looking: does it focus on what you can do for the world or what the world can do for you?
  5. Engaging: is it compelling enough for anybody to change their behaviour and get behind it?

If it isn’t then it is not worth the paper it is written on.  And on the note I had better get back to my word-smithing

Word Smithing

Read another opinion

Image by quinn.anya

P.S. You do have a mission statement, don’t you?


  1. Jamie Stuart says:
    • James Lawther says:

      I do,

      I particularly like “The problem is woolly thinking – when the words hide that there’s nothing to say”

      Thanks very much for the link


  2. It is worrying to see how difficult some massive companies find it to articulate what they are trying to do. Are they scared that they haven’t included everything? Imagine trying to formulate a sensible strategy for AOL or GM if they can’t even agree what they are there to do!

    • Hi Bernie, James,
      I believe that many companies are not brave enough to say what they think not because they want to include everything but because they don’t want to exclude anyone. Creating something that is simple and compelling is hard and many business executives are not wordsmiths. Perhaps, they should have more creative word-smithy types in their mission statement sessions?


  3. James, totally agree with you. Too often the mission statement is a rambling manifesto created by committee that includes everything they could think of to put into it. I, too, have been in those brainstorming sessions. Painful. Thirty days later, no one can recite the final product verbatim. Now how does that drive commitment?
    Instead it should answer as simply as possible just three questions:
    What do we do?
    What do we do it with?
    Who do we do it for?
    The best I’ve ever read is Disney’s, as you mentioned: “We create happiness (what they do), by offering the finest in entertainment (what they do it with) for people of all ages everywhere (who they do it for). Personally, I still like Steve Jobs’ “Make a dent in the universe.”
    The mission statement mantra should be: Keep it short. Repeat it often. And make it stick.
    All the best on your vetting process. While it is difficult, if done right, it’s a lot better than not having a mission statement. Without one, it’s like everyone rowing on a boat with no idea where they are going or why. That may be good for leisure, but certainly not for business.

  4. Hello James

    There is a world of difference between the kind of mission statements that are memorable, that provide direction and which inspire folks to greatness and those that do the opposite. For me the KEY is that the mission statement is AUTHENTIC – it comes from the heart, it LIFTS HUMAN BEINGS UP (customers, suppliers, the people in the company) at a emotional/spiritual level and it provides DIRECTION and thus enables ALIGNMENT of many actors that have to work together.

    I wrote a post talking about the vital differences between mission statements that speak to people and those that are like the one put out by Exxon: http://thecustomerblog.co.uk/2012/04/16/digging-into-customer-centricity-what-is-the-defining-feature-of-a-customer-centric-company/


    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for the link Maz, I agree whole heartedly. Though I don’t think that the Microsoft statement is too bad:

      “enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential”

      At least you know what they are there for. Some others are truly woeful. How about Albertson’s (a fortune 500 supermarket)

      Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.

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