Richard Branson has a thing for mission statements.
He likes them. He just thinks most of them suck.
Most mission statements are full of blah truisms and are anything but inspirational. A company’s employees don’t really need to be told that “The mission of XYZ Widgets is to make the best widgets in the world while providing excellent service.” They must think, “As opposed to what? Making the worst widgets and offering the lousiest service?” Such statements show that management lacks imagination, and perhaps in some cases, direction.
Mission statements — the good and the bad — have a way of bringing out the true core of your company. If that core is boring and jargon-filled, so will be the mission statement. If it’s fun, inspired, unique, caring … you can see where this is going.
Here are a few tips Branson delivered in this piece he penned for Entrepreneur.
1. Avoid buzzwords and jargon
You’re not talking to a mirror, you’re talking to the world. Talk in a way that the largest amount of people will be able to understand you.
2. Avoid “blah truisms”
You don’t need to spell out in obvious detail what it is you do. Try telling us why you do it.
3. Go for mottos, not speeches
Or as Branson put it:
“Brevity is certainly key, so try using Twitter’s 140-character template when you’re drafting your inspirational message. You need to explain your company’s purpose and outline expectations for internal and external clients alike. Make it unique to your company, make it memorable, keep it real and, just for fun, imagine it on the bottom of a coat of arms.”
But a great company mission statement isn’t just a cute slogan to put on your website. It can be used to guide you through tough decisions.
It gives you something to stand for. Consider this story from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, as told to Harvard Business Review. The coffee retailer was one of the U.S. retailers to offer affordable and comprehensive health coverage to both full- and part-time employees and their families.
It’s a pricey commitment that goes above and beyond the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. But it was 2010 and public opinion was turning against the federal healthcare reform.
Schultz got a call from an important shareholder. Cut the benefits to part time employees, the shareholder said.
And I just said, “I could cut $300 million out of a lot of things, but do you want to kill the company, and kill the trust in what this company stands for? There is no way I will do it, and if that is what you want us to do, you should sell your stock.” What I stand for is not just to make money; it’s to preserve the integrity of what we have built for 39 years—to look in the mirror and feel like I’ve done something that has meaning and relevancy and is something people are going to respect. You have to be willing to fight for what you believe in.”
So what does this have to do with mission statements. Here’s Starbucks’:
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Anything inspiring or nurturing about saving a dime by cutting health benefits?
Looking for more inspiration? Here are some other great examples of mission statements done right.
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.
Our mission statement is simple, yet the foundation of everything we do here at Virgin Atlantic Airways…to embrace the human spirit and let it fly.
In store or online, wherever new opportunities arise—Nordstrom works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible. The one constant? John W. Nordstrom’s founding philosophy: offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality and value.
Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
To help people save money so they can live better.
Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more.
P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.