Company Mission Statements: Take Down the Dusty Poster and Make It Meaningful

By Melody Craigmyle
Vice President of Marketing, Electrograph Systems

Every organization at one time or another has written a mission statement or two and maybe even established “core values” it feels are really important to who or what they do. Maybe it originated with the owner 80 years ago or by an overpaid ad agency (don’t get me started on ad agencies!). But who in the organization knows what it is? Honestly folks — at this moment, can you recall even one line of your mission statement? And more importantly, what part does it play in your company’s success? With greed, corporate scandal, Ponzi schemes and corruption splashed across the news every day lately, the spotlight has once again turned towards values. It’s not enough anymore to hang a mission statement poster in the break room and hope employees magically “get it” in order to represent your company and your brand.

An essential ingredient in establishing a broadly adopted mission statement is helping employees understand just what it is the company has set out to accomplish. Employees are more willing to be loyal and work towards fulfilling the mission’s promise if they buy into the vision and the ultimate product, service or value your organization brings to your customers. Employees want to know, at the end of the day: what do I contribute?

I once heard a renowned mathematician give a motivational speech at a business conference. Yes, it does seem odd that a profession as dry as mathematics would somehow be motivational – sounds super-geek boring, right? He spoke about a company he worked for in the 1960’s where he and all his colleagues were grossly underpaid and the working conditions were basically horrible with insane hours. Meanwhile, many of his other colleagues at large corporations or universities were making big salaries or had fat research grants. However, he said despite all the bad conditions there, he and his team were three times more productive than other geek pros. Why? Because they worked for NASA and it was the first Apollo manned mission to the moon. It was the mission they believed in, and that made them work hard for that common goal. It was crystal clear what the goal was and their role in making it happen (are you starting to get this now??).

Of course, I’m not advocating for poor working conditions. And don’t think you can cut health insurance or replace the Starbucks coffee with Sanka if all your employees buy into the goal either.  The point is that a clear, concise understanding of the corporate mission and the part employees play in fulfilling it is step #1 for helping any kind of mission statement to stick. Do your employees understand the company’s brand? Can they communicate just what it is you do and why? You gotta start by providing that context.

It’s time to rewrite or refresh your organizations mission statement and core values.  Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Let the employees write the mission statement.
That way, the buy-in is partially pre-established because they were actively involved in creating it. One employer I worked with held meetings in field offices across the country and asked the employees to help establish core values and elements of the mission statement. After a series of meetings, distinct themes started to come out and led the company to a totally new mission statement and set of core values.

Hold Mission Workshops. When new employees join, don’t just hope they will read the mission statement in the handbook and “get it.” Make it a part of their orientation to explain the mission statement and core values and help them understand how they fit into the big picture. And if you do rewrite the mission statement, hold these workshops for all employees (Oh yeah, remember the rest of those guys? They need to know this stuff too!).

Reinforce through visuals. Think about what employees see throughout the day. Hello?? How about the computer! Create a cool screen saver or background wallpaper with your mission statement. Embroider corporate logo shirts with the core values on the sleeve. I recently saw this at local restaurant where each server had the values on their sleeve and corresponding collateral was everywhere in the place. Find new and creative ways to constantly remind them of their duty to fulfill the mission. Forget the break room poster!*

*And while I’m critiquing your office décor, please take down any and all of those Successories posters too. You know, the one that has the stock photo of the Bald Eagle that says “Dare To Soar”? That’s buying a totally cheesy, generic mission statement. It’s just wrong, folks.

Keep it simple but specific. Don’t use words the average employee does not understand. However, don’t make your statement so ambiguous that it does not mean anything such as, “We deliver superior service to our customers.” Be specific and make sure it speaks to your industry.

Get the Executive buy-in. Make sure your executive management specifically mentions the mission statement and core values in their communications. If they’re not on board, you may as well forget about it! Even go so far as including the mission in public communications like an Annual Report or newsletter so employees can see that the communication inside and outside the company is the same.

Reward employee behavior. Establish a program that rewards employees for exhibiting your core values and mission. It can be as simple as logo merchandise or gift certificates, but it shows that managers are watching and rewarding those who are fulfilling the mission.

Things like rewriting your mission are never urgent, but they’re important. So make the time to go through this exercise and you’ll be thankful you did down the road. “Dare to Soar!!!” (Just kidding!)

Melody Craigmyle is the Vice President of Marketing for Electrograph Systems, a value-added distributor of professional and consumer audio/visual products.