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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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How to write a good mission statement

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere



Think Iíll try something new. Something bold and exciting. I know. Iíll start a business.

What do I need?

Letís see. An idea for a product that offers unique or competitively priced value. A market for my product. A marketing plan to create demand for my product. Investment capital to help me develop, produce, warehouse, market, and deliver my product. What else? Might have to hire and train a few employees. Of course, Iíll need to file a few forms with the government regarding taxes, etc. No problem.

Is that everything? Oh, yes. A mission statement. Should be easy, especially since Iíve given my idea so much careful thought.

To be effective, my mission statement should

Describe what my organization aspires to be

Identify my core values

Connect my mission to my stakeholders in a meaningful way

Be both inspiring and unique, both general and specific

Use word choice and sentence structure to create a pleasing sound

I should have done this long ago. Itís like falling off a log. So hereís my statement: "Our mission is to make the world a better place."

Perfect! Well, maybe not. Itís certainly inspiring, but itís not unique. Itís general, but not specific. Needs to be all four.

Okay, second draft: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit." I like it, I like it. But itís still too general.

Now if I go with my idea of selling coffee by opening a chain of coffeehouses around the world, I should probably refer to my product in some way. Letís see. I know: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit Ė one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time." Yes! Now Iím cooking on all four burners. I mean, roasting.

My statement works not only because itís both inspiring and unique, both general and specific, but also because it avoids jargon and it uses sentence structure to good effect. Note the emphasis created by the dash (use a dash for dashing effect, as they say) and by the repetition "one . . . one . . . one . . ." I mean, itís not "I have a dream . . . I have a dream . . ." but itís the same idea. Simple, straightforward, appropriate to its subject, in this case not the American spirit and our ideal of social justice, but coffee served to real individuals in real neighborhoods.

When I compare my statement to a competitorís Ė "To create an experience that makes the day better by focusing on three key elements: high-quality, differentiated product, coffeehouse environment, and dedication to customer service" Ė I know I have the advantage, even if my competitor has neat-sounding paragraphs under each of those three elements.

Iím equally pleased when I look at another competitorís statement: "To be a center of excellence for community gathering that brings good taste, conversation, and provides a relaxing environment to peopleís lives," which is flawed by cliches and nonparallel structure.

Piece of cake. I mean, cup of coffee. Ah, I can just smell those coffee beans roasting. Yum!

Cha-ching, cha-ching.




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