From financial statements to the idea of making a statement – showing people what you think and behave through your actions….we hear the word statement come up a lot. It still seems rather static and impersonal, features that no founder wants their venture to embody. How do we move beyond basic words on paper and turn our communication into dynamic and genuine visual storytelling? We’ve got to start with actually living by our mission and not just crafting a statement that looks good when it’s written down.
It’s generally accepted that a new business needs a mission statement. Before we go through the details, let’s focus on that first word: “mission”.
Beyond your business concept, plan, capital, day-to-day operations and financial forecasts, what is your mission?
Why did you get involved with this business in the first place?
We often picture a “company” as only that independent, separate legal entity that exists as its own ‘“legal person”. What about that company representing simply the company you keep? Have you thought about the individuals that make your company what it is and how important they are to you and your business? How does each individual fit into your overall mission?
Starting with your own company on the level of each individual employee – how do you envision creating positive impact on the world around you?
Business can be a force for good and the global B Corporation movement continues to grow at an impressive rate, with 2655 companies worldwide currently certified and legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. There are also legal structures that move beyond the standard fiduciary duty to maximize profit for shareholders and make it possible for corporate leadership to prioritize charitable goals, as in the case of the L3C in the United States, and to also commit to higher standards of purpose, accountability and transparency as Benefit Corporations.
According to an article published by the Harvard Business Review on June 17th 2016, “…Identifying as a B corporation is a way to publicly claim an identity as an organization interested in both shareholder and stakeholder success. Having a clear identity can help firms communicate their values to customers, which is particularly beneficial when they are claiming an identity different from the industry norm”.
It’s important to see the process of improving the way we do business beyond just words on paper and distant, abstract, concepts. We all make an impact on the individuals, communities and environments that surround us in all their forms. What is important is our awareness of that impact and the mechanisms we put in place to track our influence, impact and results.
How is your mission statement connected to all of this? Crafting a compelling mission statement is a process. I’ll focus on the word compelling because your goal must be to motivate both your target audience – your current and future customers and clients – and also the individuals who make your company what it is. Your employees also need to be motivated to realize the goals outlined by your mission statement. The first step in ensuring this happens is by getting them involved.
You must ask the right questions of everyone involved in moving your company forward. Obtain feedback from your fellow company members, directors, managers, leadership and also from your employees at all levels.
Whether you’re writing your first mission statement or re-formulating your existing one, you can try this exercise:
Write out answers to the following questions. Then, send a survey out asking the same questions of your team members.
What do we do for our customers or clients?
What problems do we solve for them and what solutions do we offer?
What do we do for our employees and all other members of our team?
What do we do for our shareholders and managing members?
You don’t need to ask everyone – just choose several to include in a team-based project that includes:
- Executives, managers and supervisors
- Sales and customer service representatives
- Workers that deal with manufacturing, processing, fulfillment or some other form of delivering a final product to a customer
Once you’ve surveyed your team – you can get a better idea of where you are now and compare it to where you want to be. Then, start to craft a mission statement that will motivate your team to achieve the goals set by it.
Asking questions of the people you work with is not necessarily about getting them to help write a perfect mission statement. The surveys are about making sure that there is a common mission among your team – that you’re communicating well within your own organisation. Once you’ve established this, you can determine how to improve the way you communicate with the world around you.
Some companies keep a mission statement short and sweet: up to one paragraph.
Others such as Patagonia display their mission statements on an entire page of their website. Through concise text, you’re taken on a journey through their, “Reason for Being” that makes their mission genuine and real. Patagonia is dedicated to their core values, they are on a mission to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to protect nature and they’re not bound by convention when it comes to accomplishing their goals. The rest of their text gets right down to how they make all of this happen.
Similarly, Lenka’s Garden, once of our investee companies, segments its mission statement to include:
A short and to-the-point mission, “To develop products and initiatives across the agricultural, technological and retail landscapes that reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals, solve economic challenges and respect natural processes.”
A more descriptive element of the mission statement itself also includes goals: “We endeavor to contribute to the growth and overall happiness and well-being of each individual our efforts impact. Our multifaceted venture ensures that positive social and environmental impact beyond financial return can be measured and scaled to produce even greater and more meaningful results.”
Lenka’s Garden continues with specifics regarding what the company does and its commitments to society and the environment. The company then backs this information up with reports and certifications. The entire team got involved in the B Impact Assessment and it was emphasized that improvements needed to be continuous. The process wasn’t just about getting B Corporation certified and then bragging about it – the necessary steps to certification were just a starting point in implementing a company culture focused on long-term positive social and environmental impact.
Your mission statement is also a starting point, and it is meant to inspire and motivate your team members and your customer base. It’s got to change and improve over time, just like your product, service or program offering. Starting out knowing that the words representing your company and organization must be as dynamic and open to improvement as you are can make the process of communicating you mission truly enjoyable.
All communication is about growth – inspiring others, expressing the value of your innovations and meeting your personal and business development goals.