A mission statement is a concise explanation of the organization's reason for existence. It describes the organization's purpose and its overall intention. The mission statement supports the vision and serves to communicate purpose and direction to employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders.
A mission statement is used by a company to explain, in simple and concise terms, its purpose(s) for being. The statement is generally short, either a single sentence or a short paragraph. The statement serves a dual purpose by helping employees remain focused on the tasks at hand, as well as encouraging them to find innovative ways of moving toward an increasingly productive achievement of company goals. A company’s mission statement defines its culture, values, ethics, fundamental goals, and agenda. Furthermore, it defines how each of these applies to the company's stakeholders — its employees, distributors, suppliers, shareholders, and the community at large — use this statement to align their goals with that of the company. The statement reveals what the company does, how it does it, and why it does it. Prospective investors may also refer to the mission statement to see if the values of the company align with theirs. For example, an ethical investor against tobacco products would probably not invest in a company whose mission is to be the largest global manufacturer of cigarettes. It is not uncommon for the largest companies to spend many years and millions of dollars to develop and refine their mission statements. In some cases, many mission statements eventually become household phrases.
Developing a Mission Statement
Mission statements are found in the intersection of three organizational areas:
- Customer and Stakeholder Expectations, and
- What Is Really Being Done.
An organization’s true mission is found at the intersection of those three areas [see Figure below]:
The real “mission” of an organization is found at the center of the graphic, at the intersection of all three areas; this is the area where senior leadership can say “We are mandated by law to do this, and it’s expected of us by our customers and stakeholders and we are doing it.” That is really the baseline function. That is really the mission of the organization.
However, in taking an example of cyberspace organizations the real mission would be somewhere other than in the center area. To further explain…
- If an organization is mandated to do something and if customers/stakeholders expect it, but the organization is not doing it, then we have an unfulfilled mandate [mission gap]
- If an organization is mandated to do something and the organization is doing it but customers/stakeholders don’t expect the organization to do it, then we have an example of a non-value added function [who cares]
- If customers/stakeholders expect the organization to do something and the organization is doing that something but the organization is not mandated to do it, then we have an example of something outside the mission area [senior leadership putting out daily fires]
In the case of public sector cyber space organizations, this would mean to seek innovative approaches to improve cyber capability against growing threats and avoiding performance metrics used to demonstrate progress that are narrowly focused and fail to capture the progress made to improve cybersecurity.
How to Use the Mission Statement
How the statement is used depends on the size and nature of the business. Smaller businesses might post it where all employees can see it or include it on computer screensavers as a regular reminder. Some companies share it in marketing materials – on the website, in the company description in marketing literature, and in advertisements. How it’s used, however, is less important than whether the statement is accurate and realistic, and whether employees and management use it to guide strategy and decisions.
Examples of Mission Statements
Here are the mission statements of some well-known companies and government entities.
- Amazon: "Our mission is to be Earth's most customer-centric company. This is what unites Amazonians across teams and geographies as we are all striving to delight our customers and make their lives easier, one innovative product, service, and idea at a time."
- Tesla: "Tesla's mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."
- Costco: "Here at Costco, we have a very straightforward, but important mission: to continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices."
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): "Provide America's taxpayers top-quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all."
- General Services Administration (GSA): "Deliver value and savings in real estate, acquisition, technology, and other mission-support services across government."
Many mission statements change and evolve over the years. It's a good practice to establish a mission statement from the start, but be sure you consistently review it to ensure it expresses your organizational purpose as you would articulate it today.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Mission Statement
- Provides direction: Mission statements are a way to direct a business into the right path. They play a part in helping the business make better decisions which can be beneficial to them. Without the mission statement providing direction, businesses may struggle when it comes to making decisions and planning for the future. This is why providing direction could be considered one of the most advantageous points of a mission statement.
- Clear purpose: Having a clear purpose can remove any potential ambiguities that may surround the existence of a business. People who are interested in the progression of the business, such as stakeholders, will want to know that the business is making the right choices and progressing more towards achieving their goals, which will help to remove any doubt the stakeholders may have in the business.
A mission statement can act as a motivational tool within an organisation, and it can allow employees to all work towards one common goal that benefits both the organisation and themselves. This can help with factors such as employee satisfaction and productivity. It is important that employees feel a sense of purpose. Giving them this sense of purpose will allow them to focus more on their daily tasks and help them realise the goals of the organisation and their role.
Although it is mostly beneficial for a business to craft a good mission statement, there are some situations where a mission statement can be considered pointless or not useful to a business.
- Unrealistic: In most cases, mission statements turn out to be unrealistic and far too optimistic. An unrealistic mission statement can also affect the performance and morale of the employees within the workplace. This is because an unrealistic mission statement would reduce the likelihood of employees being able to meet this standard which could demotivate employees in the long term. Unrealistic mission statements also serve no purpose and can be considered a waste of management's time. Another issue which could arise from an unrealistic mission statement is that poor decisions could be made in an attempt to achieve this goal which has the potential to harm the business and be seen as a waste of both time and resources.
- Waste of time and resources: Mission statements require planning. This takes time and effort for those who are responsible for creating the mission statement. If the mission statement is not achieved, then the process of creating the mission statement could be seen as a waste of time for all of the people involved. A lot of thought and time can be spent in designing a good mission statement, and to have all of that time wasted is not what businesses can afford. The wasted time could have been spent on much more important tasks within the organisation such as decision-making for the business.