Big Goals Require Clear Vision: Crafting A Mission Statement

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Jason Foodman is an Entrepreneur, Board Member & CEO. Foodman is the Strategic Advisor for Leaf.page.

In 1961, President Kennedy stood before an audience in Congress and countless Americans on their televisions and proposed that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

This single sentence defined at the outset, in very clear terms, the goal and vision that would drive the American government forward for the next eight years, culminating with two men reaching the Moon in 1969 and returning safely to the Earth.

Kennedy’s mission statement helped enable NASA to build a roadmap for each of the milestones that would be needed to achieve success. Then, with this plan in motion, teams could begin working on each of those major steps and account for all of the technology, processes and materials that would be needed. Without such a clear goal and such drive to complete the mission, the U.S. could not have gathered an estimated 400,000 individuals to complete this mission.

Crafting A Mission Statement

Kennedy’s speech may not have been made for a corporation, but I think it is a shining example of what a business should strive for when creating a vision or mission statement. It set a clear objective and inspired both the work ethic of NASA and the hearts of the American people involved in the effort.

Contrarily, when an average business creates a mission statement these days, the process frequently only entails a group of people spending a day or two developing something on a flip board, which subsequently gets communicated to the company, occasionally posted to the website and then quickly forgotten. Why? Because they were so broad, generic and fluffy that the vision had no real value short or long term.

Recently, when I asked a new entrepreneur what the vision and mission was for his startup, his answer was “make a lot of money.” I pressed for more details and quickly realized that was pretty much it. The passion for making money was very clear; what was missing was everything else needed to give a startup any chance for success. His passion and energy weren’t focused on the idea or its impact, and the vision was a by-product of success, not a vision for success.

Conversely, I recently came across a large company’s mission statement on the web, and it read along the lines of “to be a leader in the field and enrich the lives of our users.” The two come from different places yet are equally ineffective at conveying anything of meaning. In some sense, the larger a company gets, the more important it is to have everyone highly focused. Having a wishy-washy vision and mission at scale will result in lots of people doing lots of different things and marching in numerous directions.

Three Guidelines For Your Mission Statement

To summarize, there are three key considerations to keep in mind. Following these guidelines will enable a business to create a vision statement that actually serves a purpose, directing the actions of the company in a meaningful way. Doing so requires you to:

• Be Specific. Too often, vision statements are very generic, use fluffy, non-specific language and don’t really mean anything. Avoid words like best, value, enrich and leader. Instead, focus on specifically defining what the objective is and what will be achieved: How, when, to do what, for whom, etc.

• Keep it brief. Given how specific an ideal vision is, the next challenge is to state everything in the most efficient way possible. One or two sentences are typically sufficient—aim for thirty words at most. By keeping it short, your meaning will be more understandable and digestible. Also, limiting yourself to two sentences will force you to boil down all your thoughts into something concise and focused, making your message more effective and easier to implement.

• Pave a path. Great visions aren’t about values; they are about challenges and goals. Of course, your business should operate with certain core values and integrity (that’s a given), but that’s not the objective of the business. A true objective is to create something, change something or do something, and that should be the focal point of the statement.

A great statement can make employees feel more confident, directed and passionate about their work, yet a poor one may create an environment that’s floundering or soulless. Never shirk away from being earnest with your objectives and ideals; instead, create a goal that is challenging enough to show your confidence in yourself, your people and your goal. That is the essence of a forward-thinking vision.


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