Mission Statements: Automatic or Inspirational

Posted on by Bill Burck

Strategy Collaboration sessions usually meet all of Stephen R. Covey's requirements for creating empowering Mission Statements:

- Enough People
- Fully informed
- Interacting freely and synergistic ally
- In an environment of high trust

He says all company's Mission Statements will contain the same basic principles and values which cover the four dimensions and needs of life:
- Physical/economic
- Mental
- Emotional
- Spiritual

As Nancy Lublin points out in Fast Company:

"Mission statements are like corporate Hallmark cards. Often written in a bland cursive font and plastered conspicuously at headquarters, these aspiring epigrams are pretty words in Air Supply -- like rhythm. Sometimes they're created at a retreat in the woods, between the trust fall and the passing of the speaking stick. Vigorous fights over semantics last for hours, even months. Then you end up with some variation of the jargony quasi-poetry above.

The phrase "big hairy audacious goal" (or BHAG) was first proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book Built to Last. They say a BHAG is "clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort, often creating immense team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal .... A BHAG should not be a sure bet ... but the organization must believe 'we can do it anyway.'

Microsoft came up with probably the most well-known BHAG, "A computer on every desk and in every home, all running Microsoft software." Amazon has a great one for its Kindle, too: "Every book ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds."

Both statements do something crucial: They quantify the goal. Microsoft doesn't just want to sell software -- it wants its software on every computer, in every home. Amazon doesn't just want you to buy a book; it wants to help you do so in under one minute.

Most companies aren't so successful at laying out their goals (or, obviously, at execution). And in my experience, not-for-profits are especially awful at creating BHAGs with clear targets, preferring warm, fuzzy words that have all the gloss of inspiration and none of the soul and drive of the real thing." 


Almost all large, strategy collaborative sessions end with a Mission Statement created by the clients. These are often rushed and adapted post-session by the clients even though they meet many of Dr. Coveys requirements. 

Here is an assignment to get you clients thinking about how to create their own powerful Mission Statement:

Click icon to download MS Word Read, Dialogue Apply Assignment

And if you don't have enough time during your collaboration session, check out automatic Mission Statement Generators as well:

Evil Genius Mission Statement Generator 2.0 (more applicable to teams than clients)
My Evil Genius Mission Statement
Mission Statement
To take over the world's most valuable vegetable using nuclear powered iPods.