That was something that I Googled. Likely more than once because I probably forgot that I searched and found nothing. When I was trying to write the mission statement of my last company I felt frustrated and incompetent. My co-founder and I thought we knew our mission in our head, but getting it onto paper was…..daunting.
I haven’t seen a great template for writing a mission statement. But here are some frameworks and tips I’ve found to be useful.
Understanding what a mission statement is….
People use mission, vision, and even strategy interchangeably by mistake. Here is how I think about their definitions.
-Mission– the why. Simply put, the mission answers “why do we exist?” That matters, as Nietzsche observed, because “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
-Vision– the future. Vision describes what the future will look like if we achieve it. Sometimes a vision statement is implied by the mission and thus redundant. More on mission v. vision here.
-Strategy– how we get there.
-Values– who we are along the way.
Mission, vision, strategy, and values need to be clear, transparent and memorable for the team. Three pages of values, or a mission that’s in the founders’ heads, doesn’t help and is often counterproductive. In those instances, founders feel confused about why the team isn’t relying on those frameworks or in the worst case, the team is actively using different versions of their interpretations of the frameworks. The founders need to ensure all of those things are actionable. Finally, ask yourself, how do these translate into behavior – what does it lead us to do and (importantly) not do?
Why a mission statement matters
Pulling together a mission statement is a lot of work. Aligning around it consistently for the life of the company is even harder. That investment won’t go well unless the stakeholders understand why a mission statement matters.
-Mission is a framework to empower others to make decisions more easily and effectively, thus improving performance.
-It should attract like-minded people to work with us and help guide the culture. Not just employees, but partners, investors, users, the press, and others.
-It should help employees see the meaning and purpose of their work, boosting morale. Mission helps to create an identity and a soul for the company.
In web3 I believe mission statements will be even more important to ensure alignment without as much traditional structure or centralization as existed in web2. I’ve also heard some CEOs that have gained incredible traction, particularly in terms of early valuation/fundraising wins, say some version of “well, we didn’t need to write out the mission/values to get to this point, so I don’t think it’s important going forward.” I believe that framing is misguided for several reasons, including my belief that what is required to go from 0-1 is different than 1-10.
How to use a mission statement
Mission statements are used both internally and externally, with some overlapping goals.
-The mission guides our thinking on strategic issues. Strategy (and everything else) flows from mission (more here).
-It should be incorporated into performance standards. If an accomplishment isn’t aligned in service of the mission, then what did it accomplish?
-Use a mission to inspire employees and other stakeholders. In the book Flow the author describes that a unified purpose leads to flow (TLDR- you want flow).
-Mission needs to be brought to life. In 1:1s, team meetings, explaining product or partnership decisions, goal setting, talking with new hires and describing performance, in board meetings and investors conversations. The mission is the lifeblood of the company. Keep referring back to your mission.
-Mission helps draw in support that resonates with it. PR, partners, investors, teammates etc.
-Create close links and better communication with users. Users will have more context for your product and business decisions if they understand the mission.
Mission and values change very rarely. The mission is typically crystalized in the first 12-18 months of a company’s history.
How do we know if a mission statement is effective?
Some things to consider about your (draft) mission statement:
-A good mission statement is concise and memorable. At most three sentences, but ideally one that is clear and understandable.
-Mission should help you focus. At my last startup, I used the mission statement every week to talk about why we were or weren’t making decisions. I also had teammates question some of my thoughts or decisions by relying on the mission (“is that consistent with our mission?”). I felt incredibly proud in those moments.
-It should be unique to your business. If it isn’t, your team, users and other stakeholders will struggle to understand what differentiates you from the competition.
-It should use active language (think action verbs).
-Ask yourself: How does it help inform what we should and shouldn’t do? Lets run recent real situations by the proposed mission statement. Would it have changed any hiring decisions or performance conversations? Strategic or product decisions? Does it help create greater alignment? A mission statement should help us make decisions more effectively and efficiently.
Oh you wanted a template?
I haven’t seen a good template for writing a mission statement. I think the process tends to be organic and unique to the founders/CEO. But here are some things I believe to be true:
-Writing a mission statement is not a group effort. If you show a mission statement to someone and ask for feedback they will have it. It’s like writing a thesis paper in college- everyone will always have some feedback. Try it with these – you will still get feedback from talented and well-meaning teammates. Because of that, asking too many people leads to a diluted and soulless mission statement. It’s like writing the next great American novel by committee.
-“Start with ‘why’”. Try to think of why you’re building this and giving your life to make it successful. Perhaps conduct the 5 whys exercise.
-Write one short sentence. Then break it down word by word. What language is superfluous? What words can be more impactful? Clear. Concise.
-Get rid of any buzzwords. Buzzwords are alienating. They don’t stand the test of time. For example- if a web3 company includes the word crypto, will they regret that in 5 years?
-You will likely find an urge to get opinions on the mission statement. I have found that more than five opinions typically dilute the mission statement. Be clear in role definition when asking for feedback. Is the provider just providing Input or also part of the final Decision. Without that clarity, feelings may be hurt if you don’t incorporate their thoughts.
I’ve found the process takes 3-14 days when effective and thoughtful. When you’re done, lock it in and now start ingraining it into the company’s day-to-day activities. An inspiring mission that people rally behind is magic.
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