Why do organizations create mediocre mission statements? Where is the innovation?

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Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of poorly written mission statements.  The steps to creating them, in my opinion accurately represented by the cartoon, quickly become one more activity that is turned into a repeatable process my some well-meaning consultant. Have you noticed what’s missing from most mission statements? Any kind of innovation and creativity.  What is managements view on innovation if you don't apply it to something so critical as an organizations mission statement?

Whats wrong with the mission statement

Wikipedia defines a mission statement as:

A statement of the purpose of a company or organization. It should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It provides “the framework or context within which the company's strategies are formulated.”

A mission statement typically contains 3 elements:

  1. Customer segment (who) – who is your target client/customer?
  2. Product/Service (what) – what product or service do you provide to that client?
  3. Differentiation – what makes your product or service unique, so that the client would choose you?
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An example of one that includes all of the key elements:

McDonald's – “To provide the fast food customer food prepared in the same high-quality manner world-wide that is tasty, reasonably-priced & delivered consistently in a low-key décor and friendly atmosphere.”

  • Customer Segment: The fast food customer worldwide
  • Product/Service: tasty and reasonably-priced food prepared in a high-quality manner
  • Differentiation: delivered consistently (worldwide) in a low-key décor and friendly atmosphere.
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Rather sterile and boring.  I would have thrown in “fun for kids and adults” – or maybe “laughter”.

Mission statements need to be aspirational.  They empower teams to create raving fans by doing whatever it takes to meet the mission.

What are some of the most innovative/aspirational you've come across?


Credit: Cartoon by Tom Fishburne / Marketoonist. Listen to his interview on the Killer Innovations podcast.


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13 thoughts on “Why do organizations create mediocre mission statements? Where is the innovation?

  1. Lappset, a Finnish company, has a mission “to bring the joy that comes with outdoor fun to people of all ages.” Or as their president put it shortly in a recent presentation, “We invite mankind outdoors.” They make playground equipment for kids and now for grown ups and senior citizens as well.

  2. Phil,

    To some extent the problem is with Authors of mission statements rather than the organisations that wish to craft them.

    Mission statements may be about innovation or nearly anything else that an enterprise wishes to assert, but the main problem, as the cartoon above wryly observes, is the use of “weasel words”.

    Ahh, weasel words, sometimes attributed to your Theodore Roosevelt, and more recently the title of a book by Australian political speech writer, Don Watson – “Watson’s Dictionary Of Weasel Words”, published by Random House.

    IMHO, if a mission statement is to be of value, that is intelligent, foresightful and “inspiring”, it will be need to be brief, well-written and comprehensible, perhaps even comprehendible.

    Finally, many successful organisations have appalling mission statements, while many appalling organisations have perfectly fine mission statements.

    Too much attention is paid to them.

    Michael Zerman
    Adelaide AUSTRALIA

    • Not sure I agree with the idea that we should go without them. Maybe we need something new to replace it with. Whenever someone says “mission statement”, you can hear the eyes rolling.

    • Not sure I agree but at the same time, most leave a lot to be desired.

      I’ve found mission statements useful for people within organizations to measure/check what they are doing. Does the task I’m doing fit? Am I doing something that supports the missions, etc?

      At the same time, they can meaningless if poorly written — or even worse, they can damage a company and its culture if done as a whim.

  3. A big problem is that everyone is afraid to exclude *anything* from the mission statement so it ends up unbounded. Knowing what you don’t want to do is a big part of creating a good mission–it’s also the sign of an effective leader.

    Another issue is failure to differentiate between mission and tactics. A lot of the weasel words get tangled up trying to explain “how” the organization is going to do whatever it does. A good mission focuses on the “what.” The Lappset example below focuses on the what, and is a great mission statement as a result.

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