I have been there: Your vendor misses a delivery. Your system goes down. Your employee forgets to tell the client. You want to stick a pencil in your hand. In our darkest hours, we need to find strength in a set of guiding principles- those things that make us whole.

For some time, I struggled with purpose myself- proving that, at times, "the emperor's children have no clothes." Driving home from the Inc. 5000 Conference last year, it hit me like a two-by-four over the head. In a raw moment of complete clarity, I knew what my company's mission statement had to become: "We enable entrepreneurs' pursuit of the  American Dream."

I have helped over 130 companies craft mission, values and vision statements. These discussions are often about as seamless as a Donald Trump-Nancy Pelosi budget discussion.

People hold on very tightly to definitions of what these statements mean. Let me tell you from experience that it's a bunch of hooey.

Our mission wasn't something I read in a textbook, or that would make for a trendy tagline. It is something that spoke to me and gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. My energy around it convinced my team to buy in.

Whether you choose to use mission, values, vision or mantra statements is a personal choice, and you as an entrepreneur (or management team) get to decide what is meaningful to you. Don't let any advisor or board member tell you what they must be, because those people are not the ones in the trenches every day.

My experience is that the best-run companies- those with the best engagement from employees and customers-are purpose-driven companies. With singular focus, they achieve more than the others. And that doesn't only apply to triple-bottom-line, social-impact companies. Having purpose applies to all.

I facilitated a strategy session for one of the world's premier speaker manufacturers. The CEO practically pounded his fist on the table and exclaimed, "We need to make products of uncompromised quality." The word "uncompromised" drove much of the company's strategy, including product and channel decisions. Words matter.

Another client ships food to the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the theater of war, American comfort food may be their only connection to home. You can bet your bottom dollar that feeding troops is a source of universal pride, and every person packing a pallet does it with unrelenting purpose.  

Out of duty, I will share the classical definition of what these terms mean, but with the caveat that every management team should create statements (or mantras) that provide meaning to them:   

The Mission Statement

This articulates a company's purpose. Mission transcends any product, service or short-term objective. It answers the question, "Why are we here?". Mission statement should be very short and serve as the inspiration for the company and its employees. It is generally both inward and outward facing. Note that some companies prefer a "purpose statement."

The Values Statement

These are your core ideologies and describe how people in your organization should behave. Your values should require no justification from the outside world; they are the principles that embody your culture.

The Vision Statement

This should state the alpha goal for the organization and a clear description of how it will get there. It is the place where you dream. While mission statements are inspirational, vision statements are aspirational. They may include a goal or destination the company aspires to reach in the future. Vision statements can be outward facing, but are often for internal consumption only.

It is often useful to form these statements with a very small group (five or less). It can take several iterations of brainstorming to get them right.

Some of our favorites:

Mission

Nike: "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world."

Values

Google:

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  • It's best to do one thing really, really well.
  • Fast is better than slow.
  • Democracy on the web works.
  • You don't need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  • You can make money without doing evil.
  • There's always more information out there.
  • The need for information crosses all borders.
  • You can be serious without a suit.
  • Great just isn't good enough.

Vision

Zappos: "Delivering happiness to customers, employees and vendors."

My experience has been that the most successful companies are driven by purpose and leverage such statements as their true north to chart the course for their success. They reinforce these statements daily through their behaviors, actions and language.

Published on: Feb 23, 2018