It’s Time for a Mission Statement Makeover

It’s that time of year: annual planning.

Nearly every company on the planet is taking a look at what they’ve done and what they’re planning to do in the coming year, and we’re doing it right along with them.

Two things typically undergird all of the questions that surround this process—company values and a mission statement.

Values are those things that affect and guide everything, from our internal staff culture to how we treat our clients (thanks to Eric Mathews at Start. Co. for drilling this into me five years ago). Here are GAN’s values, and they truly do serve as the foundation of how we do business in the world and how we work together as a team. Our mission statement, on the other hand, is the north star we use to dictate where we go as a company—it’s why we provide all of the services we provide and what we wake up every morning determined to change in the world.

Together, values and mission guide the entire future of our company and how we work together to accomplish those things. Which is why—you’ve probably guessed by now—I’m going to make a case that your values and mission statement truly have to reflect what you really want or need to be.

For now, I’m going to focus on mission statements, though. Mostly because I’ve seen so many really bad ones, and bad mission statements set everyone up for some pretty poor annual planning.

Some Examples

If you do a quick Google search for mission statements, you’ll see that many of them sound like they could be any company, anywhere, doing anything. Or, they’re just about what you happen to personally care about.

Things like:

  1. “Be the best in the eyes of our customers, employees, and shareholders.”
  2. “Profitable growth through superior customer service, innovation, quality, and commitment.”
  3. “We strive to be the acknowledged global leader and preferred partner in helping our clients succeed in the world’s rapidly evolving financial markets.”
  4. “The company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.”
  5. “Undisputed Marketplace Leadership.”
  6. “To supply outstanding service and solutions through dedication and excellence.”
  7. “Create value for shareholders through the energy business.”
  8. “We will continue to build a corporate culture that respects and values the unique strengths and cultural differences of our associates.”

All of these are focused on what the company wants.

Not want the customer wants. Not what the employees want. Not what your friends want.

They’re just—largely pretty generic—internal goals. But internal goals do become the guideposts for our work.

And, sure, a ton of us want to maximize shareholder value, lead in the market, or provide great service for our clients. But how unmotivating is that? Not only are they all about us, but they’re honestly what’s often really wrong with the startup ecosystem. More profit, more gain for the same people, more revenue so we can make more for ourselves. They have nothing to do with the outside world, no bigger goal in mind, no vision for making a difference in the lives of people that aren’t us or that don’t look like us. They’re what we want to occur in our own little worlds instead of what we want to happen out there, in the rest of the world.

Why It Matters

Last week, I wrote a blog directed at people that oversee innovation at large corporates. My entire point was about focusing on something outside of the company—a larger, external force driving their desire to engage with startups (e.g., saving the environment, reducing car accident deaths, etc.). This generates so much more excitement and not only more potential partnerships but more valuable (and profitable) ones than when a corporate just wants to work with startups in order to make more revenue or save more cash.

The same is true for startups.

So many startups desperately want to make money. They want to provide great service. They want to have a team that’s fulfilled. They want to exceed others’ expectations.

But, at the heart of it, they’re just doing it all to make more money. That’s not a random assumption. It’s exactly what their mission statements tell us they’re about.

We have to get beyond this.

Why?

It will help others know what you’re really about.
If you’re just about “exceeding customers’ expectations,” you sound like everyone else. Every company should be exceeding their customers’ expectations. Think Volkswagen: They’re not for everyone and they market themselves that way.

It will generate excitement on your team.
Just being about “pleasing your customer” isn’t really something that people are going to get excited about. And frankly, your customer isn’t going to get excited about it either. After all, what does that really mean anyway? Think Southwest: Part of their mission is to deliver customer service with warmth and company spirit and don’t you feel that on their flights?

It will provide an overlap between you and your customers.
With a purpose outside of just your shareholders, your customers could actually get excited about what you’re up to in the world.

Without it, you won’t have a true north star.
You won’t know which direction to go. You’ll always just chase the money that seems easiest to get.

It might create less harm.
Let’s face it, an entire world focused on just making more profit has led us in some pretty bad directions. When profit is our only measure of success, we tend to miss how much harm we cause to people and planet and we really do have to start getting self-reflective about how our gains are leading to a lot of other losses that are bad for all of us, even if we don’t feel the effects of them immediately. Think Patagonia: They have such incredible brand loyalty because, while they still make mistakes, they actively admit them. And, they’re on the leading edge of new policies in the clothing/material goods industry.

It might even give you and your team some joy.
An internally focused mission statement doesn’t really provide any joy. Meaning, more money in the bank doesn’t truly make anyone happier. But seeing how you’ve positively changed the world through your work is something that has been proven to increase happiness.

Changing the Tapes

So, what to do about it?

Frankly, it’s pretty easy. Find something about what you do that will actually create a better world. Realize that your labor and the labor of your employees is a choice and it matters. Not like what you see in the show Silicon Valley. But, ask what the work you do actually does for the world and don’t be afraid to shout it from the rooftops.

If you have a company that’s helping people decrease the time it takes to complete their mortgages, make it your mission to “help people get a new home faster and easier.”

If you have a company that’s focused on great tech for veterinarian clinics, then make it your mission to “help pet owners get the best possible healthcare for their pets.”

If you have a company that’s providing a better way to send mass text messages, then make it your mission to “help businesses communicate with their customers with ease.”

All of these are about things outside of your company. They have nothing to do with you. They have everything to do with what you’ll do for others.

So, as you go into annual planning, a big question for you is this:

What are you about? Are you going to spend another year just focused on what you want, or are you going to change this year and create a goal that’s focused on something outside of yourself?