Why Successful Organizational Leaders Burn Their Mission Statements

What I’m about to say, will shock most organizational leaders….It’s time to retire the mission statement.

  • They don’t motivate anyone.
  • They are a waste of time and energy to develop.
  • They quickly become part of the corporate wallpaper.

During a recent leadership workshop a participant proclaimed, “When I hear the word mission, I think of a military mission.”  Not exactly the image that is going to get most employees excited about their jobs.

Lookup the word “mission” on dictionary.com and 15 references are cited. Only these three even come close to filling the definition organizations use the concept for and none are very inspirational:

  • an assigned or self-imposed duty or task; calling; vocation.
  • a sending or being sent for some duty or purpose.
  • the business with which a group is charged

Is it any wonder why few employees are motivated by their organization mission statements? Yet, most every organization in the world spends countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars trying to create the perfect mission in strategy sessions.

How Successful Organizational Leaders Motivate Employees Without Having a Mission

If organizational leaders want to inspire and motivate employees, connect at a deep level with customers and build a brand around something that shows the organization makes a difference, they should burn their organization’s mission. Then, they should dig deeper to identify the organization’s Purpose.”

Dictionary.com’s definition of “purpose” includes:

  • the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used.
  • an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
  • determination; resoluteness.

Those three definitions provide a much greater foundation that will help you inspire a group of employees to work toward your organization’s goals. The inspiration will become more real, however, by experiencing actual organizational purpose statements.

My Favorite Purpose Statements…

I believe Yellowstone National Park has one of the best organizational purpose statements.   Sitting across the archway leading into the park, their purpose statement reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” It’s simple. It’s easy to remember. And it’s something that focuses park employees on serving the millions of visitors to Yellowstone every year.

Here’s another example:

A regional not-for-profit organization recently completed a strategic planning process decided to take my advice and created this as its purpose statement: “Our Purpose Is To Instill Hope, Empowerment and Self-Determination in People with Mental Illness to Foster Recovery and a Transition to Mental Wellness!”

Again, this is a one-sentence statement that is memorable and motivational whereas most mission statements are many sentences in length, are cumbersome for employees to memorize and are rarely associated to or referenced after they are created.

To create a powerful purpose statement for your organization you might think that all you have to do is ask “why does our organization exist?” That question can be tricky, especially in a for-profit organization that needs to meet shareholder expectations, turn a profit and dividends or attain a certain share price. Instead, the focus should be on the thing the organization must to in order for it to position itself to be able to achieve those things.

Two Questions You Should Be Asking to Create Your Purpose Statement…

  1. “What is the one thing that our organization must do for our customers and our community, at a very high level, that will absolutely ensure our financial success for the long-term?”

  2. “What is it that we do consistently that makes a difference in our customers lives/businesses every day?”

Even with these questions leadership teams have a challenge answering them by themselves.  Often, internal facilitators fail to push the issue deep enough to get to the core essence of the organization’s existence.  What is created is a statement lacking power and emotion.

For organizations serious about creating a memorable and motivational purpose statement that actually inspires team members to perform and achieve high level results there also needs to be an implementation and integration strategy to infiltrate the purpose throughout the organization’s culture. Often times the best results are attained by having an outside facilitator and consultant assist the organization’s leadership with this process.

© 2010 – 2015, Skip Weisman. All rights reserved.