A good mission statement serves a twofold purpose for businesses, focusing employees toward a common goal and communicating to consumers whether that company objective is a good match for their needs. But condensing everything you want your company to do or provide into just a sentence or two takes serious work, and it's not unusual for businesses to come up with unsatisfying, ambiguous--and potentially even meaningless--material. Your company doesn't have to fall to this fate.

Even big companies miss the mark

Traditional mission statements often read like this:

"To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service, and self-fulfillment needs of women--globally."--Avon

"To be earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."--Amazon

These mission statements are both good in that they are customer-oriented. But they leave a lot unanswered. For example, why grasp and deliver what women need? Does Avon just want profits, or are they really out to empower and help women feel incredible? How would being empowered and feeling good change anything?

What companies usually leave out

Most mission statements don't definitively clarify the difference they are going to make in the world. They focus on what the company wants to do, but not the larger societal purpose behind that goal. That's an issue because, if businesses can't identify their potential larger, positive influence, it's much harder to convince customers, workers and shareholders that the business is solving an existing, long-term, deeper problem and doing anything worthwhile.

Inspiring mission statements are out there to model

Despite the fact that mission statements are notoriously difficult to construct, some businesses have avoided the trap of ambiguous, non-unique jargon. As an example, take a look at the mission statement for sweetgreen:

"Founded in 2007, sweetgreen is a destination for delicious food that's both healthy for you and aligned with your values. We source local and organic ingredients from farmers we know and partners we trust, supporting our communities and creating meaningful relationships with those around us. We exist to create experiences where passion and purpose come together."

This mission statement works because, even as it clearly identifies the product (locally sourced, healthy, delicious and organic food products), it emphasizes the social motivators behind the provision of those ingredients (community support, meaningful relationships; passionate, purpose-filled experiences), pointing out what the company wants customers to have beyond what they buy.

Getting to a meaningful mission statement

If you want to make sure you've identified the heart of why your business runs, ask yourself a few questions as you write your mission statement.

In addition to/instead of asking this:Ask this:

How does my product/service help my individual customers?/td> How does my product/service help communities?
Where do I want my company to be in x years? Where do I want my customers to be in x years?
What does my product/service do (features)? What can customers/communities do with the product/service (applications)?
Who is my target customer? Who gets hurt if I leave them out?
What kind of business do we aim to be? What kind of community do we want the business to build?
What strengths/weaknesses does my business have? What strengths/weaknesses do our customers have?
Why should our customers look to us? How can we show we believe in our customers?

Honing in on a better, bigger business purpose is largely a matter of turning frequently used questions on their head, forcing you to remember that business-buyer relationships are reciprocal. If the partnership you have with consumers is clear in the vision statement you write, you've likely crafted a mission statement that goes beyond the superficial and into solid reasons for operation.