If you spend any time looking at mission and vision statements, it quickly becomes clear that there is no one formula for creating them. In fact, according to Google, there are 220,000,000 answers to the inquiry ‘how to write a mission statement’. Mission statements come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Long ones, pithy ones, clever ones, much-t00-cute ones, you can find them all. And that’s after you decide whether you are going to work on mission or vision first.
There are good reasons to write a vision statement first. After all, one can argue, we have to know where we are going before we know how we will get there. The road trip metaphor is often at play here. There may be many routes from San Antonio to New York, but you do need to know you are headed to New York. (I’ve heard there are some kooky people who get in a car and just start driving, but even they have to choose which way to turn when they pull onto the road.) On the other hand, driving is not the only way to travel and knowing your travel method can widen or narrow the options for your destination. Perhaps mission needs to come first.
As a general rule, when I’m working with a group on mission and vision, I begin with the mission. I do this for two reasons. First, a mission statement is a description of a current state. It is present tense. It says we do this, not that. In all but the most chaotic organizations, people have a general understanding of the work and can explain it. With a bit of guidance. they can turn that understanding into an easily understood statement that both provides guidance and inspires.
The second reason I start with the mission statement is the work of drafting it helps bring organizational groups together. Even in the smallest group of people, there are different tasks to be done, differing levels of responsibility, and, often, varying perceived value to the work people do. Crafting a succinct (I give a word limit) statement of mission that incorporates and shows the value of everyone’s work can be challenging. But the conversations on the way to solving the puzzle are important in and of themselves. People can find shared values, common headaches, and mutual accomplishments.
When leaders take the time to involve other organizational members in this work, it models collaboration, valuing other’s opinions, and, engaging people in the work of leadership. In other words, it supports, or if needed, begins to create a healthy culture throughout the organization. It helps the positional leaders define a deeper purpose for the work and invites everyone to identify with that deeper purpose. Written well, and used effectively, a good mission statement can bring meaning to everyone’s work.
Time well spent
Clearly, I’ve become a fan of mission statements. And even with groups who have a mission statement, I often start with a review, if not an actual rewrite as part of leadership development and support. Calling a group back to its mission, reminding ourselves of what we are here to do is foundational leadership work. And I have always found it worthwhile to spend time on both writing the mission statement and reminding people it is there and why it is important. (And it helps make sure we actually do get to New York instead of San Francisco – or whatever our actual destination may be.)