Mission statements that don’t pass the receptionist test

OK, hands-up any small business owner who actually has a business mission statement? This means you can:

  1. recite your mission as one clear, compelling sentence, and
  2. put your hand on some document where it is written down, and
  3. every employee can do all of the above too

If all of the above don’t apply – and I mean all of the above, there is no point in having one. Fans of ‘mission statements’ declare that the purpose of a mission statement is to serve as a guiding light for the whole organisation; keeping everybody on the same path, so to speak.

I have an admission to make: I don’t have a mission statement or a vision statement.

Guy Kawasaki is not a great fan – he prefers something called a mantra. Guy names the following examples as mantras, but to me they are simply glorified taglines.

  • Federal Express: “Peace of mind”
  • Nike: “Authentic athletic performance”
  • Target: “Democratize design”
  • Mary Kay “Enriching women’s lives”

My question to you is this: Do these ‘mantras’ help you (the business owner/ entrepreneur) in any way whatsoever?

Mission statements belong to an era where there was business certainty. (Not sure when exactly that was.) And it was developed by shonky consultants to give them something to do during the first session of the annual strategic planning retreat.

At opposite ends of the scale you will find Twitter and the San Francisco Chronicle. Both have mission statement and they are both losing money. That’s because neither have a business model

The idea of something like a ‘mantra’ is important because it demonstrates to the business owner that the can articulate something about the business succinctly. BUT the thing/idea that the entrepreneur must focus on is the ‘business model’.

There isn’t a sexy way of explaining this: your business model is simply a statement of how you make money. You can state that plainly or esoterically. It is a matter of articulating (and understanding) the type of business that you are in.

 ‘Peace of Mind’ (FedEx example) does not help anybody make the right decisions in the business. Let’s apply the receptionist test.

An irate customer calls. The receptionist is the only one at Head Office (everybody else is on a strategic planning retreat.) They complain that a parcel that was promised did not arrive. How does ‘Peace of Mind’ help her (or him) make a decision?

On the other hand, if she knew that: “We are in the business of moving any parcel, anywhere, on time” – she would have a useful guideline. She could make a decision – even hire a chopper to deliver the emergency parcel. And the boss would have to reward her (even if the cost exceeded the return.)

  • If someone called and asked if they deliver parcels to Timbuktu - she would have an answer.
  • If some called and asked if they delivered dead cats – she would have an answer.
  • If someone asked if they could get something somewhere by tomorrow – she would have an answer.

Being able to articulate your business model has real, practical value. It clarifies what you do, how you do it and who you do it for. The above example obviously can be refined and re-written to suit the business.

One word makes a big difference. Consider these slight changes to teh Fedex Mission Statement (for example):

  • We are in the business of moving any parcel, anywhere, on time, profitably.
  • We are in the business of moving any parcel, anywhere, on time, guaranteed.
  • We are in the business of moving [……] parcels, anywhere, on time.
  • We are in the business of air freighting any parcel, anywhere, on time.

Getting it right is extremely valuable – the consultants have that part right. But if you end up with words like ‘empowering’, ‘transparent’, ‘stakeholders’ or any of that nonsense in your mission statement, it is back to the drawing board.

Can you articulate your business model? Examples of good/bad mission statements?

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