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The Problem With Your Mission Statement

Take a second to read this mission statement:

We aim to protect people from harm with a range of outcome focused functions that are professionally competent and understand the operational policing context of their services, ensuring that they are quality assured, effective, and efficient.

What is the value of language your readers don't understand?

I know mission statements are tricky. But there's definitely something to be said for clarity, if not brevity.

Because how much of the above mission statement did you truly understand?

What is "a range of outcome focused functions"? What is "operational policing context"?

What is the value of language your readers don’t understand?

Nothing—if your readers don’t understand what you’re saying, you might as well be saying nothing at all.

Say what you mean.

Would you have guessed that the confusing mission statement above is for a police department?

Wouldn’t it have been much easier (and effective) to say “To protect and serve,” like the LAPD does in its motto?

My point here is that there is nothing wrong with plain language. In wanting to sound professional, a lot of companies just end up playing Meaningless Jargon Bingo:

  • "Provide solutions"? Got it.
  • "Empower"? Check.
  • "Core competency"? Yep.
  • "Highest quality"? Almost there...
  • "Passionate"? BINGO!

It’s easy. It flows. It sounds professional. But... no one understands it. Which means that your language is failing in its most basic purpose: to convey meaning.

Want meaning in your mission?
1. Make sure it actually describes what you do.
2. Make sure the people reading it can understand it—and act it out.

How do I do that?

Simple. Start with a question: “Why do you do what you do?”

Now, have people answer that question in the simplest language they can. Have them answer it aloud, and not in writing, to remove the temptation to play Meaningless Jargon Bingo. In fact, have them answer it so that a child can clearly understand it.

For example:
Q: “Why do you do what you do?”
A: “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment—for people of all ages, everywhere.”

That’s Disney’s mission statement. And there’s nothing wrong with it—in fact, it’s great. It’s understandable and, better yet, it’s honest.

And honesty resonates with people.

Taking it to heart.

Your company’s mission statement should affect everything you do—and everything your employees do. But if no one can understand or, more importantly, internalize your mission statement, you’ve got a problem.

For example:

We aim to protect people from harm with a range of outcome focused functions that are professionally competent and understand the operational policing context of their services, ensuring that they are quality assured, effective and efficient.

As an employee of this particular police department, I’m not going to internalize this mission statement. It’s cold, distant, and due to the jargon use, it feels corporate and dishonest. I’m not going to nod in agreement with it, let alone live it out, because… well, just read it. Ugh.

But:

To protect and serve.

Employees will remember that. It’s short. It’s sweet. It’s honest. You can say it in a breath. You can apply it to your life. See where I’m going with this?

Show, don’t tell.

You can have the greatest mission statement in the world—but it doesn’t mean anything if you and your employees or coworkers aren’t living it out.

Jargon aside, the biggest problem with mission statements is a failure to move beyond the words.

You can say you do all sorts of things, and your mission can look great on paper. But if your company—each and every employee—isn’t living it out every day at work, it doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Don’t just tell people your mission statement: show it. Live it out. Your actions will speak louder than your words.

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