Well, first of all, a mission statement can be pretty effective at establishing guidelines for people to follow in an effort to achieve a certain loftier, longer term mission. In fact, mission statements have been used throughout history and many have indeed withstood the pressures and tests of time.
Think religion and the book of Genesis 1:28: “Be Fruitful, and multiply…”.
One of my favorite, classic examples is in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States, which is a mission statement of sorts:
“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
What are Mission Statements?
Mission statements are a reflection of a set of principles that an institution (be it a government, armed forces, employer, not-for-profit, club, etc.) utilizes to guide and motivate their constituents (citizens, employees, soldiers, members) towards a common goal or mission.
Over the course of six years during the late eighties and early nineties, two Stanford University Professors (Jim Collins and Jerry Porras) conducted an exhaustive research study to determine what separates visionary companies (the elite of the elite companies) from all of the rest. To them, “visionary” companies have 6 common traits; they:
- Are a premier institution in their industry;
- Are widely admired in the business community;
- Made an indelible imprint on the world in which we live;
- Had multiple generations of Chief Executives and leadership changes;
- Have been through (and succeeded) multiple product (and service) life cycles;
- Were founded before 1950.
Within each one of these companies, beyond a steady record of profitability and growth, was a set of ideals or what they refer to as a core ideology. Mission statements reflect a corporation’s fundamental ideology. According to the authors of Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, a core ideology has 2 parts:
1) Core values are the handful of guiding principles by which a company navigates.
2) Core purpose is an organizations most fundamental reason for being. 
So, a mission statement is usually supported by additional principles, objectives or beliefs that are presented in the form of a vision, values, purpose, creed, ethical guidelines, operating procedures or policies that are, in total, generally designed to “set the tone” for the entity. The other characteristic of effective mission statements is the fact that they are developed for the long term, endure and withstand the test of time.
In their book, Collins and Porras describe through a set of actual cases, the paradoxes or the “yin and the yang” that occurs in these companies where they operate simultaneously as highly idealistic companies yet are also highly profitable. Companies in this elite category include: Nordstrum, Wal-mart, Sony, Proctor and Gamble, Disney, Motorola, HP, Boeing and GE.
Sample Mission Statements that Work
I decided to look around, curious to see the mission statements that really are durable and, in my opinion, can withstand the test of time. Here are my top 10 favorites:
1) Nike: “To Bring Inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete”.
2) Microsoft: originally it was “a computer on every desk and in every home”. Now the mission is: “to help people and businesses throughout the world reach their full potential.”
3) Apple: “designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork, and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced its magical iPad which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.”
4) The NFL: “To challenge National Football League players to be lifelong learners while pursuing continuous improvement in family relations, social interactions, personal growth and career development during and beyond their careers as NFL players.”
5) AFLAC: “To combine aggressive strategic marketing with quality products and services at competitive prices to provide the best insurance value for consumers”.
6) Hershey Corporation: “Undisputed Marketplace Leadership”. Pretty direct and to the point!
7) Disney: “The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.”
8) Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream: A product mission stated as: “To make, distribute & sell the finest quality all natural ice cream & euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.”
9) Joe Boxer: “JOE BOXER is dedicated to bringing new and creative ideas to the market place, both in our product offerings as well as our marketing events. We will continue to develop our unique brand positioning, to maintain and grow our solid brand recognition, and to adhere to high quality design standards. Because everyone wants to have fun every day, JOE BOXER will continue to offer something for everyone with fun always in mind.” (The CEO is called the Chief Underpants Officer!).
10) Wal-mart: “Wal-Mart’s mission is to help people save money so they can live better.”
Some Useful Guidelines to Follow …When Developing a Mission Statement
I personally have been involved in the development and review of quite a few mission statements for companies I have worked for and the process can be difficult and sometimes daunting. When you work within a diverse leadership team, there are many different and divergent points of view about what the mission of the organization actually is. So, as you get started on the process, keep these 6 “best practices” steps in mind:
- Determine who has the “R” (Responsibility) – CEO and/or Board should appoint a single person responsible for the completion of the mission statement; someone absent a broader agenda and who is a proven, collaborative facilitator that represents a wider group of people selected from the leadership team.
- Assemble the team and set the deadline for completion.
- Determine your audience – that can include: shareholders, employees, customers, clients and the general public at-large.
- Model and Emulate the Best Businesses – review the mission statements for other companies in your industry group, the visionary companies outside your industry and the most admired companies in the world. See how they support the mission statement with vision, value and principle statements (as defined later on).
- Does it pass the Spouse or Mother Test? Run it by your spouse, or better yet, your mother. If your mother doesn’t understand it, then it might be time to start over.
- Communication plan – where and how will this Mission Statement be communicated – over and over again? How will you keep the mission alive and well and avoid it from ending up on the proverbial corner shelf of everyone’s office gathering dust?
As you begin your mission statement development process, remember what Jack Welch, former Chairman of GE once said about a vision, which is equally true with mission statements:
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
A Mission Statement Positioned as the Essence of a Business
One Mission Statement I am particularly proud of is this one I developed for a direct marketing company that marketed term life insurance to its customers. When I was hired, to my surprise, the company had no mission statement. Equally disturbing, I found that every employee had a different view of what the mission was so it became extremely important for me to get everyone “in concert and reading from the same hymn book”. In this effort, I served as the collaborative facilitator and worked closely with my management team. The mission statement was entitled “The Essence of XYZ Insurance Services” and became our mantra:
“The people of XYZ Insurance Services, assist bank customers in securing their family’s financial future, with the purchase of affordable life insurance.”
This mission statement is simple, to the point, and an exact expression of what we were all doing there in the first place! In addition to providing focus, this mission statement served as our moral compass, spoke to our core competency and a served as a blue print for the collective, continued success of XYZ as a company. I used every opportunity to state and re-state it – to employees, independent contractors, vendors, partners, clients and customers. In the final analysis, the very last thing you want is a mission statement that is rendered less meaningful by vagueness, wordi-ness or worse yet, one that the employees believe is insincere, totally futile, farcical or completely untrue.
More Sample Mission Statements:
Company Statements and Slogans from A to Z:
Additional Fortune 500 Company Mission Statements can be found at:
Mission Statements by top 25 Tech Companies
Additional Terms Defined:
Values – shape your organization’s actions.
Vision – a statement of the organization’s longer term aspirations.
Purpose – a description for the organization’s reason for being.
Credo/Code of Ethics – similar to values, a business code of ethics.
Here is Costco’s:
Our Code of Ethics
1. Obey the law.
2. Take care of our members.
3. Take care of our employees.
4. Respect our suppliers.
If we do these four things throughout our organization, then we will achieve our ultimate goal,
which is to:
5. Reward our shareholders.
Service Pledge – typically, a promise to deliver outstanding customer services.
 Genesis 1:28 English standard version states: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
 The Mission Statement Book, by Jeffrey Abrams, A Kersty Melville Book, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA, 1994, 1999, page 7.
 Built to Last, by James C. Collins and Jerry I Porras, HarperCollins Publishing, 1994, page 2.
 Ibid, page 54