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Defining Your Mission

By Rob Meissner, TCV Growth Partner -

A mission statement is a brief description of an organization’s purpose. Early in my career, I thought that crafting a company mission statement was mostly a waste of time. This was because the ones I was familiar with were from the companies I worked for and were mostly ineffective. In one case, the mission statement was so lofty and generic that it could apply to virtually any company. As a result, it was meaningless. Who really opposes apple pie? In the other case, the mission statement was so detailed that it read more like a product catalog. It explained what we did, but there was no passion for why.

Since then I’ve come to realize that a well-crafted mission statement can be invaluable for any organization. Most people want more than a paycheck from their job and career. They want to have a positive impact on others, the environment, society, etc. Thus, they will be far more passionate and more engaged when the values and mission of a company align with theirs. Consider Tesla’s mission statement:

Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to clean energy.

Tesla is pointing to something more than just building cars. They are staking the claim that they will be a leader in delivering a societal good, the transition to clean energy. I’m not arguing that they will achieve that mission or even that that everyone will agree with it. I am arguing that that Tesla’s mission is one their employees can be passionate about.

Beyond aligning the internal team, a good mission statement can draw customers and others to your cause. Consider the mission statement for the American Red Cross.

The mission of the American Red Cross is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

The Red Cross is explicitly calling on their donors and volunteers to be part of their mission to alleviate human suffering. Lest you think that connecting customers and supporters to the company’s mission is just for non-profits, Starbucks sees their mission to positively impact people and their neighborhoods.

Starbucks’ mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

So if a mission statement can align employees and connect to customers and communities, what should be considered when crafting a mission statement? Answer these four questions:

What do you do? At first glance, answering this question seems straightforward enough. However, when an organization provides a range of products or services, succinctly describing the “what” is more difficult than you would expect. Recently, I worked with a non-profit to help craft their mission statement. The initial answer I received for this question was a description of the dozen or so diverse programs that they offered. So, I then pushed them to articulate what is the common theme that connects their programs. It’s the same issue that the Red Cross faced, what is the common theme between their blood collection efforts and providing housing to flood victims – alleviating human suffering. For the non-profit I was working with, it was “empowering individuals to overcome adversity”.

Who are your customers? Like answering the “what” question, identifying the “who”can also be challenging. Yet, if your mission statement is going to connect to customers and other stakeholders, you need to be able to succinctly identify the customer. Note that the definition of customer doesn’t have to be all inclusive. Starbucks frames their customer as those in their neighborhood. Are all their locations neighborhood stores? Clearly not. Go to any airport. However, they see themselves as being the neighborhood coffee shop as the heart of what they do.

Why do you do it? I like to ask the question “why did you decide to work here”. Sure you might get some non-helpful answers, “they were hiring”, but often you get people to articulate what makes the organization special. I’ve found that the answer to the question can help clarify the answer to the “what”.

What sparks your passion? Similar to the previous question, this question seeks to discern what about the company employees find motivating. For Tesla, it appears that leading a green

Connection or “collection” revolution is key. For the non-profit I was working with, nearly all of the employees spoke about having once been in the shoes of their clients. They were passionate about helping people walk through tunnel and emerge into the light at the other end. That was their personal mission and that reflected the mission of their organization.

Finally, in crafting your mission statement, there are three additional considerations.

The mission should be plausible and attainable. Solving world hunger is great, but can you do that?

The mission should be Inspirational. I’ve seen plenty of mission statements that clearly state the what. People, however, are drawn to the why.

The mission should be clear and simple. It should be no more than 20 words.

If you following these guidelines, you can rally your team and your customers to a powerful cause.


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