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  Meaningful Mission Statements - Business Leader

September 1996

Author: Jeff Foxx

Once there was an old sea captain who was soliciting shipmates for his greatest embarkment ever. He managed to gather an entire crew of men willing to go off to sea. He huddled them together on the deck of his ship and began to delegate responsibility among the crewmen when one of the ambitious sailors asked, "Captain, where exactly are we going?" Confident in his own sense of direction and impeccable navigation ability, the captain replied, "Just do the job I assign you and leave the rest to me." One night, a storm hit the small vessel tossing it about on the waves. One hard hit sent the captain into the mast and unconscious on the deck. When the storm calmed, the crew began to argue about where they should direct the ship not knowing the direction that the captain desired to take. Unable to agree on a common direction, the crew divided, took lifeboats from the ship and abandoned the captain.

The captain made two fateful errors. One was walking on the deck of the ship in the middle of a raging storm, the other was not sharing with his crew his expectations and mission of the voyage. In the business world, it is also important to establish a common purpose so that all employees and clients of the business know exactly where they fit in and where the company is going. Just as man has always striven to define a purpose for existence, so should businesses ask themselves "Why are we here?" and establish a mission statement. 

Why Have a Mission Statement? 

There are several reasons why businesses write mission statements. Businesses write them so clients will know what type of business they are, so employees know what to expect from the business, or to direct future decision-making. Adrienne Lumpkin of Alternate Access, a business that helps companies that do business by phone be more efficient, believes that their mission statement is important for two reasons. "Externally it helps position you with other competitors, it shows you where you fit in the market. Internally it keeps you on track and in focus. It's easy to get diverted by the latest opportunity and the mission statement keeps you on track and keeps you motivated," explains Lumpkin. 

Recently, what is now Triangle United Way underwent what president Tom Dugard refers to as a "marriage" and needed to rewrite their mission statement to incorporate three counties. "A mission statement helps us in dealing with donors," says Dugard. "We needed a central focus on why we are doing what we're doing." When a business is spread over a wide area, such as with banks, a mission statement gives the organization coherence. "It casts in concrete the guiding principles and mission of the bank, so there's a uniform understanding," says Alex McFadyen, Jr., manager of communication for First Citizen Bank. Susan Fonville of Triangle Bank agrees that having a mission statement only directs the organization but serves the client as well. "In the process of making decisions, we go back to the mission statement," she explains. "It's a common way of doing business, if you stick to the mission statement, the shareholders will be protected and know what to expect." Most businesses that have mission statements agree that the importance of a mission statement lies in keeping the business focused and always productive. Cheston Mottershead, Jr., president of TCI, an organization that provides rehabilitation services for disabled individuals, says that the mission statement keeps his organization where it should be. "It's like a guide post, a focal point in the distance, the direction we look at it changes but our focal point never changes," says Mottershead. 

Developing a Mission Statement 

There is no set process for developing a mission statement. Some businesses establish their mission statement when they are first founded, some wait and see what their mission becomes, some write lengthy, detailed statements while some try to keep their statement short. "Our mission statement came out of the senior management team seven years ago," said Mottershead of TCI. "It was three sentences and we recently narrowed it to one sentence. I feel like short and concise is the way to go. It makes it easier to check yourself." 

Bob Booth, president of the Durham chamber of commerce, agrees that a mission statement should not be too long. "I think short is better than long. It should be succinct and to the point," explains Booth. "Everything we do has to relate to the statement, so the statement tends to be broad, then we get more detailed with our goals and objectives." 

Some companies prefer to write a mission statement on their own while others request assistance from outside professionals. When Alternate AccessTM began the process of writing a mission statement, they enlisted a PR company to help in the process, according to Adrienne Lumpkin. "My partner and I worked closely with the PR company. From developing a business plan to sending out press releases about who we are, each step was part of a process leading to the writing of the mission statement," says Lumpkin. "We rewrote it in the last six months to make it more reflective of what we are doing for customers. We wanted to break down our mission or what we do into one sentence. We just tried to simplify it for our customers." 

Recently, Romac International, a staffing organization, wrote a mission statement from an existing philosophy statement. According to Romac president Patti Gillenwater, the philosophy statement was written 2 or 3 years ago and recently turned into a mission statement. In writing the mission statement, Gillenwater involved all other employees and evaluated her own goals for the company. "The leader of the company needs to be very clear to what his or her personal goals are before writing a mission statement," says Gillenwater. "He or she needs to evaluate the goals for the company and for his or her self and they should be in line." 

Businesses that are franchises or off-shoots of other companies have something to build on for their mission statement. For instance when Triangle United Way was formed from three United Way organizations, they needed to get a mission statement to get up and running so they used part of the national United Way mission statement. "The mission statement we have now is just an interim piece just to get us going, so we incorporated the national mission statement," says Dugard. 

For businesses that change constantly, like a chamber of commerce, writing a mission statement can be an on-going process. "We have a planning conference at the beginning of each year in which we review the mission statement and make any changes needed," says Demming Bass of the Cary Chamber. "We will probably rewrite it next year because we are trying to include more non-profit organizations. We try to set objectives that can be acheived in one year." 

In developing a mission statement, some businesses strongly emphasize the employee's needs and working as a team. Gary Tomlinson, president of Med Covers, a producer of soft-sided cases, believes in developing a team and involving all members of the team when writing a mission statement. "Our mission statement was developed four and a half years ago at the end of a four day retreat for human systems development of the owners of the company, the executive team and the frontline management," recalls Tomlinson. "We started by writing down words that describe our company, like 'team' and 'committed to quality,' from their we started writing and composing, and after several hours we had our mission statement." Tomlinson also sent all employees from each department on week-end retreats to develop departmental mission statements. Tomlinson says that they revisit these retreats every year to build the team and revise the mission statement. 

Conveying the Message of the Mission 

Once a business develops a mission statement the next, and perhaps most important, step is to get the message out to employees and clients. The old sea captain may have developed a mission, but he did not share it with his crew and that was his downfall. Like with developing a mission statement, there is no set right way of conveying the mission statement, but there are many standard methods. "We have the mission statements printed on wallet-size cards for each employee of the bank as well as having it displayed in framed wall units," says Alex McFadyen, Jr. of First Citizen. 

Most businesses display the mission statement somewhere in the workplace. "We have a banner hanging with our mission statement on it," says Cheston Mottershead, Jr. of TCI. "It is also in the employee handbook and everyone has a cardboard copy to hang on their office wall." Romac International is in the process of printing their new mission statement and framing copies for employees. Romac also includes it in the brochure they give to clients, according to Patti Gillenwater. The Cary Chamber includes their mission statement on their brochure of their program of work, which also includes different committee plans. Occasionally they write the mission statement on press releases that they send out, according to Demming Bass. As for Triangle United Way, they are now in the process of sending out the message of their new mission statement. "We haven't had a chance to implement the new mission statement into culture yet," says Tom Dugard. "We have discussed it with employees and received comments." 

No matter what a business' line of work is, be it banking, staffing or candle stick making, it should have a written purpose that is shared with employees and clients so as not to be stranded in the middle of the sea without a crew. 

Jeff Foxx is an editorial intern for Business Leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the business world, it is also important to establish a common purpose so that all employees and clients of the business know exactly where they fit in and where the company is going.

 

There are several reasons why businesses write mission statements...

 

...so clients will know what type of business they are, so employees know what to expect from the business, or to direct future decision-making...

 

Externally it helps position you with other competitors, it shows you where you fit in the market. Internally it keeps you on track and in focus...

 

...mission statement...

...a central focus on why we are doing what we're doing...

 

...the guiding principles and mission... so there's a uniform understanding...

In the process of making decisions, we go back to the mission statement...

...the mission statement...

...[is] ...like a guide post, a focal point in the distance...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For businesses that change constantly... writing a mission statement can be an on-going process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once a business develops a mission statement the next, and perhaps most important, step is to get the message out to employees and clients.

 

Most businesses display the mission statement somewhere in the workplace.

 

No matter what a business' line of work is, be it banking, staffing or candle stick making, it should have a written purpose that is shared with employees and clients so as not to be stranded in the middle of the sea without a crew.

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