Can You Recite Your Organization’s Mission Statement?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Do you think your staff knows what your company’s or firm’s mission statement is? Wait. Let me back up. Does your staff even know that such a mission statement exists? My guess is no and no. Does your organization explain to everyone what actually defines success and the framework for achieving it? If the prevailing understanding is that success is dictated by a better bottom line than the prior year then leadership has failed to create a cohesive and articulate message. This is no small oversight; rather, it is a recipe for dissension, apathy and dishonesty.

In order to create an environment where each individual knows his or her role in helping the organization to be successful, both quantitatively and qualitatively, leadership should establish the 3-C concept: clarity, consensus and commitment. These components are the building blocks for establishing the right focus, strategies and actions.

An essential element of an organization’s mission is a business structure that allows for flexibility should market circumstances change. Any changes you make should be done with purpose, implemented quickly—of course well considered first—and be in alignment with your operating priorities.

Explain the What and Why

An organization can be flexible and innovative if it understands why it exists, where it fits into the market, how it is viewed by its competitors and how it functions with respect to its overall philosophy.

Many organizations try to create a mission statement from how it currently operates. I posit that this is putting the cart before the horse. The result is spouting a litany of “stuff” that sounds more like a wish list or a to-do list rather than the actual essence of the entity.

Consider some of the following mission statements: their brevity and clarity make them impactful:

Amnesty International: To undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of these rights.

Make-A-Wish: We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.

Teach for America: Growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.

Granted, not-for-profit organizations have an easier time articulating their reason for being because lofty and positive goals tend to obviate the fixation on the bottom line and instead promotes a “big picture” perspective.

When you look at for-profit organizations, their mission statements have in-depth explanations with the usual themes of “We want to be the firm of choice…” “Our hallmark of success is our continued focus on our key lines of service.” “To serve our customers by providing a broad range of products.”

Yawn.

Because I am a CPA and it’s tax season, let me share this timely mission statement from a for-profit organization:

H&R Block: To help our clients achieve their financial objectives by serving as their tax and financial partner. As the world’s largest tax services company, H & R Block has one-to-one relationships with millions of clients, helping them benefit from all of the deductions and credits available to them and build a better financial future. It is the only major company that offers a full range of software, online and in-office tax solutions, combined with financial information and suggestions that enable clients to consider how they could achieve their financial objectives. This advice — the H &R Block Advantage — includes suggestions about retirement savings, home ownership, saving for their children’s college education, eligibility for government programs and other alternatives. When clients request in-depth financial plans and investment advice, their H &R Block tax professional refers them to H & R Block Financial Advisors Inc., which can assist them with a detailed investment plan and investment services. H &R Block Financial Advisors, member NYSE, SIPC, employs more than 1,000 financial advisors serving clients in more than 150 offices in the U.S. H & R Block Inc. is not a registered broker-dealer. Clients who request information about home mortgages are referred to H &R Block Mortgage Corp., which offers a full range of retail mortgage products. Our research shows that our H &R Block Advantage advice package along with related financial services increased client satisfaction with H & R Block’s tax services. H & R Block has long been a trusted tax partner to millions of taxpayers. Now we are enhancing the value of our tax services by helping clients as their tax and financial partner.

This is simply a laundry list of activities that can be found in an annual or management report. I wouldn’t describe it as motherhood and apple pie. At the conclusion of reading it, does it stand out? Is it memorable? Is it distinctive? As an H&R employee, if you can recite this word for word, well, good for you…I think.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. Here is Microsoft’s mission statement:

We work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible.

It’s a Road Map, Not a Novel

Microsoft follows the precepts of what a mission statement should be by answering the following:

  1. Who are we? Make this clean and crisp
  2. Where are we going? Recognize the direction you want your business to go, but first understand its current competitive position.
  3. When will we know when we get there? This requires matching up the business and action plans with the overall strategic plan and determine how they compare with your desired results.

Oftentimes less is more.  Make your mission statement something to be accomplished — something that can be evaluated, and most of all, make it understandable to employees, clients, customers, shareholders and other interested groups.

About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.