How often do you see a mission statement that reads "we will be the leader in providing of X services?" or "we will build the best Y products?" How valid is such a mission statement?

As a facilitator of strategy planning, I often start with knowing where you are, and follow it with knowing where you want to be. Typically, the participants define their mission statement just like the examples above. We want to be the leader and the best for everyone. Period.

Over the years, I developed a simple response to that.

Here is an example. I asked the contract manufacturing business unit head in a public technology company to create a mission statement. After brainstorming with his team, he returned with "Establish the company as a respected world-class Electronic Manufacturing Services organization achieving global EMS market share while being sought after by our customers and feared by our competition." While it seemed great to him, it wasn't good enough for me. Forget the fact that it was too long. You see, this statement had no direction-setting capabilities. A strategic intent statement should provide such guidance. It should allow employees to know what to do and what not to do when they are not sure.

And that is when I developed a test to make sure that a strategic intent, or a mission statement, has those qualities.

I suggested that he writes the opposite of this statement. This would mean "established the company as an unrespected worst class organization, not achieving a global market share, which our customers couldn't care for, and our competitors laugh at." Pretty harsh, I know. However, it became really clear that the opposite statement was completely stupid. Well, if the opposite statement is stupid, then the original is meaningless.

We then brainstormed the mission of the business unit. After some discussion, I learned that the two main dimensions of the competitive map for that business unit were the manufacturing quality, and customer size. That positioned the factory in a very interesting quadrant. If you want something manufactured at low quality, regardless of customer and order size, you do it off-shore, I was told. If you want it manufactured at high quality, you typically go to the Tier 1 manufacturers in the US. However, those are very large manufacturers, that will only accept large customers, and push away the smaller ones. This company had the high-quality manufacturing capability, but was historically serving smaller customers, and that made the group unique in its quadrant of high quality, small customers. In fact, the company took low-volume, high-quality production to an art form.

As a result, the new mission statement became "Provide Tier 1 Electronic Manufacturing Services to underserved domestic markets." It had a lot more meaning and had the capability to guide employees and focus their work.

If the opposite of your mission statement is stupid, then your original mission statement is meaningless. If the opposite of your mission statement can make sense, then so does your original.