Some advice on making mission statements mission possible


October 14, 1991|By Gerald Graham | Gerald Graham,Knight-Ridder

In the hallway, during a break in a strategic planning session, a corporate wit supposedly once commented, "The three most overrated things are: Southern cooking, three-week vacations and mission statements."

The creation of mission statements can be painfully frustrating. Planners probably spend more hours per word on mission statements than on any other aspect of the strategic plan. And there is little hard evidence that these discussions dramatically improve performance.

In my opinion, mission statements are more helpful when they follow certain guidelines.

* Intent. The intent of the mission statement should be a quick and simple definition of the business. It should answer the question, "What business are we in?"

* Product/Service. Effective mission statements define the product or service that the organization produces.

* Markets. Further, it is important to identify the major market segments to which the product is delivered.

* Example. A mission statement that attempts to communicate these purposes might read: "We are in business to manufacture and distribute athletic footwear to recreational users."

* Scope. Some mission statements are broad and general, such as: "Our business is service," "We are in the energy business," or "We are in the problem-solving business." Others can be quite narrow, such as: "We distribute jogging shoes," or "Our purpose is to create the best riding lawn mower."

More meaningful expressions fall somewhere between the very narrow and the very broad statements. "The creation of chocolate donuts," is so narrow that it is limiting. "The creation of desserts," is too broad. "The creation of pastries," is probably more meaningful.

* Creation. Finally, it is absolutely essential that the top-level line managers create and enthusiastically communicate the organization's mission.

Mission statements

Indicate whether you agree or disagree with each of the following:

Our mission statement:

1. Clearly defines the business that we're in.

2. Identifies the product or service we produce.

3. Identifies our major customers.

4. Is not too broad.

5. Is not too narrow.

6. Is clearly understood by all in the organization.

7. Was created by top management.

8. Is fully supported by all employees.

9. Is easily understood by the public.

10. Requires little discussion time at planning meetings.

Interpretation. Seven or more "yes" answers suggest a meaningful mission statement.

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