Mission Statements

Bob Borson —  January 30, 2014 — 58 Comments

I’m going to come right out and go on record by saying that I think Mission Statements are silly – particularly if you make them public and part of your marketing strategy. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom but since when do I care about being conventional?

A mission statement is typically used to clarify what business you are in, focus your goals, and identify your business objectives. All of that sounds fine to me – even desirable. Preparing a few succinct sentences to help your business know if it is focused on the right course and that your efforts are on track to support the objectives of the business is really something that all company’s should have … except that the problem with most mission statements is that they are incredibly stupid and obvious.

Let me guess what your mission statement might include – I bet that:

You work to provide solutions to problems
You strive to be respected by your clients
You plan for the future while keeping an eye on the past
You provide exemplary service of some sort
You lead by example
You listen to your clients needs
You help your clients achieve their goals

Surprised? I bet I just covered 95% of every mission statement out there.

So stupid.

Aren’t these fairly obvious and doesn’t every business – successful or not – try to do these things? They don’t add value … it’s like putting your mother on a reference list – you expect some things to be self-evident and when I call your mom, she’s not going to say anything that will be interesting or surprising about you. Your mission statement might as well say:

[Company Name] is awesome and we strive to do everything better than anyone else in the history of the future. We will try too hard, we will work too much, we will listen to everyone, and reach to exceed all needs while attempting to achieve every goal that will ever exist. 

Still stupid but at least it would make me laugh.

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I pulled out some of the mission statements from Fortune 500 companies … we know they’ve been successful so why not look at what they’ve done, surely they don’t have obvious and ponderous mission statements. Right?

The Bank of New York

The Bank of New York

“We strive to be the acknowledged global leader and preferred partner in helping our clients succeed in the world’s rapidly evolving financial markets.”

Great, glad to hear that they are helping their clients succeed. That’s probably a good business plan. Oh, and they want to be the leader (who doesn’t?).

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Microsoft logo

Microsoft

“At Microsoft, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible”

So, they work to help people realize their full potential … so does every teacher in the history of forever.

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Nike logo

Nike

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

I actually like this one. It’s short and succinct and when I read it I think “Yes, that’s what they’re doing” but let’s be honest, they’re not bringing the innovation, they’re selling it.

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Citigroup logo

Citigroup

“Our goal for Citigroup is to be the most respected global financial services company. Like any other public company, we’re obligated to deliver profits and growth to our shareholders. Of equal importance is to deliver those profits and generate growth responsibly.”

They want to be respected – the most respected actually. But as they say “Like any other public company … we’re obligated to deliver profits…” Wow, they don’t seem very happy about delivering profits to the shareholders. Bummer.

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MBNA Corporation logo

MBNA Corporation

“Our mission is to provide you with an outstanding member/Customer benefit that helps you meet your organization’s objectives. We work very hard to understand your objectives, then create a program that can help you meet them. Whether you want to attract new members, retain existing ones, drive incremental sales, or reinforce member or brand loyalty, we will work with you to help you achieve those goals.”

Another bank that wants to provide outstanding benefits … that’s way better than providing terrible benefits. Probably a sound business decision call.

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H & R Block logo

H&R Block

“To help our clients achieve their financial objectives by serving as their tax and financial partner. As the world’s largest tax services company, H&R Block has one-to-one relationships with millions of clients, helping them benefit from all of the deductions and credits available to them and build a better financial future. It is the only major company that offers a full range of software, online and in-office tax solutions, combined with financial information and suggestions that enable clients to consider how they could achieve their financial objectives. This advice — the H&R Block Advantage — includes suggestions about retirement savings, home ownership, saving for their children’s college education, eligibility for government programs and other alternatives. When clients request in-depth financial plans and investment advice, their H&R Block tax professional refers them to H&R Block Financial Advisors Inc., which can assist them with a detailed investment plan and investment services. H&R Block Financial Advisors, member NYSE, SIPC, employs more than 1,000 financial advisors serving clients in more than 150 offices in the U.S. H&R Block Inc. is not a registered broker-dealer. Clients who request information about home mortgages are referred to H&R Block Mortgage Corp., which offers a full range of retail mortgage products. Our research shows that our H&R Block Advantage advice package along with related financial services increased client satisfaction with H&R Block’s tax services. H&R Block has long been a trusted tax partner to millions of taxpayers. Now we are enhancing the value of our tax services by helping clients as their tax and financial partner.”

Just so you know, this mission statement was for H&R Block. Wasn’t sure if that was clear so I thought I’d point it out in case you missed it above … and I didn’t read it either.

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Mission statements are a valuable tool for designing a point in space that a company can focus on and work towards but who are they really written for? The company? The existing clients? New clients? How about the employees – the people responsible for actually executing the mission statement?

If you feel that your company is rudderless without a mission statement, feel free to develop one. Because I am a helpful person and full of unsolicited advice, I’ve included below “Bob’s Rules for Creating the Perfect Mission Statement.”

Rule #1 – It’s a mission statement, not a mission novella.

Make it short and to the point. People still won’t read it but at least you have a fighting chance that someone might accidentally read it before they realize what they’ve done.

Rule #2 – Does it have to be public? Really?? Stop the pandering.

Mission statements are there to focus the company’s efforts when trying to make a decision, long term vision, direction. Does the public have a say in how you run the business? If the answer is ‘no’ then leave them out of it.

Rule #3 – Your Mission Statement should reflect the future

Since mission statements are really a tool to focus efforts, they shouldn’t be about who you are and what you’ve done – they should be about who you want to become and where you want to be.

Rule #4 – Keep it simple and at high level

Anything else that you think needs to be said beyond a sentence or two should be an internal document.

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I hope that I’ve shed some unnecessary light on an unnecessary topic. Quit writing mission statements for other people’s benefit.

Cheers, and feel free to leave your awesome mission statement below so we can all copy it.

Bob AIA signature

 

The Perfect Mission Statement

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  • IceImaging

    I think I’ve finally landed at a firm that actually got this one right. “Building Community”
    It’s concise, it sums up a comprehensive program of internal values in two words and best of all, it actually does guide policy and procedure at every level. The best mission statements are single line monorails that keep 200 tons of corporate policy headed in the right direction. I think they nailed it.

  • Anthony Walke

    This was by far my favorite post Bob. I love the information you provide in all of your posts, but the pure humor in this particular one is going into the “Bob Borson Posts of Fame” board. I feel that not including Mission Statements could also be said about Objective Statements in resumes. I do not include them in my resumes because they take up space, and I should not have to include a statement of my objectives for a particular company [that is what the cover letter is for].

    Another great post! Keep ‘em coming!

  • nbc

    “2/3 the quality of (star firm name here) at 1/2 the price”

  • Tim Barber

    I don’t have a misson statement and best I can tell I don’t have a mission?
    It is pretty much “Hi I am Tim Barber and I design buildings.” That about says it all.
    I don’t do many interviewer, but I did do one years ago for a church project. After I finished talking to person interviewing me he asked “Why should we use your firm?” I thought about all the stock BS answers you always hear ” We have been around for 500 years providing the most comprehensive services in the area,……”
    My response was:
    Me – “I can’t tell you that you should use my firm. You have interviewed about four other firms, right?”
    Them – “Yes”
    Me – “I assumed they were all qualified or you wouldn’t have asked them to come talk to you. Designing and building a project is all about relationships, so you have to select the people you are most comfortable with becuase you will be interacting with them for a long time.”
    Them – “Well that was a very good answer”
    Me – “It was an honest answer”
    Unfortunately I did not get the project, but I never felt it was because I wasn’t qualified, but that they felt more comfortable with someone else, but I could be wrong! :-)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I’ve had that exact conversation many times – I think you’ll probably find an article (or 10) that I’ve written to that very same extent.

      Pretty simple works pretty well.

  • kArno

    Hi Bob, I think your mission statement is awesome and is achievable if you haven’t already done so ;)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      thanks – don’t think I’m quite there yet but I appreciate the vote of confidence

  • John Phippen

    “To be awesomER” is a vision statement–a picture of future success. “To be awesome” needs the word “by” as in “(My mission is) to be awesome BY….” To really be useful, a mission statement needs to tell us how we’re going to achieve our vision. Every example above breaks this rule which is why your observations are spot on. I could list some “by” stuff for you, but only you can figure out what it’ll take for you to be even more awesome which is why misguided business leaders try to get input from all the people in their company–they feel we all should have some input. The value of a mission statement is as a measuring stick for decision making by all the people in the organization–as in: “Hmm, our mission is to be awesome by writing witty observations about the life of an architect, so I guess I won’t post this cat video.” My wife, a high school English teacher, fought to have her school’s mission statement changed, but the principal was in love with it: “A community of one striving for excellence.” What? Her point: How can you have a community of one?

    Keep up the awesomeness.

  • Mimi Montgomery

    Great post! But you DO have a mission statement: “My name is Bob Borson and this is my site. I try and keep things light and share a thing or two about what I think I know … sometimes I get it wrong but it isn’t for a lack of trying.” Works for me!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Mimi – but that’s not my mission statement. I am Bob Borson no matter what I do and everything I do on this site is already old the moment I hit “publish.” There aren’t really any public goals associated with this website. I have plenty behind the scenes now, but it started off – and continues to be – an exercise in learning.

      Cheers

      • Mimi Montgomery

        It’s honest+straightforward…more should be like that :) Happy Weekend!

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  • Charlie Burris

    First time we tried to do a really good mission statement that reflect
    ed our practice, it sounded ridiculous by the next day!

  • Charlie Burris

    I have often thought CRS’s mission statement really covered it for us architects…..do some good architecture, make some money, and have some fun doing it!

  • http://www.stevehallarchitecture.com/ Steve Hall

    Close, but needs confidence. Suggest “To be awesomER”.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      dammit

      you are correctER

  • http://www.bridgetwillard.wordpress.com bridgetwillard

    Another hilarious post. I don’t know why we have them. They are useless.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Bridgett – maybe we should look at these mission statements as an opportunity to demonstrate some personality and company culture…

      • http://www.bridgetwillard.wordpress.com bridgetwillard

        I agree.

  • Kathleen Moore

    A couple of years ago I helped create a new mission statement for the University of Rochester. At a succinct 10 words, it caused a bit of buzz in the ivory-colored land of the paragraphs-long mission statement:

    “Learn, discover, heal, create — and make the world ever better.”

    (The last phrase is a nod to the institution’s Latin motto, Meliora.)

    So in that vein, now that I have my own business, I created a similar cut-to-the-chase mission statement:

    “Delight clients with pretty pixel pictures of their edifices.”

    That’s only 9 words! I win!! Thanks for a fun article. :-)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I have to admit, I’m a little hung up on the phrase “their edifices” … what sort of work did you say you did?

      My mission statement is only three words.

  • AlmostJane

    I chuckled all the way through this post. I’m sure the person who first thought up the mission statement concept was well-intended – someone in an MBA program maybe?? LOL. But you’re right. They’re dumb. The time needed to create and later tinker with one could be put to MUCH better use – doing just about anything else.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      goals are a good thing to have, and internal mission statements can help people maintain the course – particularly in a larger firm where culture becomes fragmented across many offices. But that’s an internal document, not a public statement of your company’s intention to do what it probably should be doing anyways.

      • AlmostJane

        Agree. And how do you feel about that so-tired-but-still-ever-present interview question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I’ve always been so tempted to say either “Running this joint…” or “Enjoying myself thoroughly at my remote retreat at Big Sur…” :>)

  • Kelsey Kruse

    What happens to a mission statement when the company no longer exists (MBNA)?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      it maintains the same value that it always had

  • Emoore

    Might be fun to read the mission statements of serious failures … Lehman Bros. for instance…. we steal your money, then we go bankrupt….

    Mine is a lot shorter

    Beautiful. Functional. Sustainable.

    Sort of sums up my philosophy.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      You get a pass because that’s more of a tagline but I would hope that everyone is trying to create beautiful, functional and sustainable work. Nobody wants Ugly. Useless. Wasteful. (although, based on some of the projects I’ve seen out there might lead you to believe otherwise)

      At some point certain words and phrases loss their impact or validity because saying you do something that should should be doing anyway becomes nonsensical.

  • Tim Glass

    You have to let me work for you at some point! I loved this post, Bob. As always, your willingness to publish your candid opinion is refreshing, and you nailed how so many employees feel when the company they work for begins soliciting input for the 3,094,028,302,004,302 revision of the mission statement. Well done.

    • Ollin Trujillo

      Lol and they really don’t even want your opinion anyway!

      “Yeah, yeah sounds great!”

  • Alexandra Williams

    Here in Santa Barbara we have the S.B. Mission. I think its statement is, “we strive to be a Mission”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      well… that is a proper mission statement for a Mission.

  • Matthew Stanfield

    I do not really have a mission statement per se. But i do have a tagline, that i think could double as a mission statement: “Community minded Architecture with a Modern Sensibility and an Eye towards Sustainability.” And yes i make it public as way to define myself in my market and because potential clients do play a role in how successfully i fulfill it. But again, i view it more as a tagline than an actual mission statement.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Fair enough. Sadly, I suppose there actually are people out there doing anti-community architecture.

  • Ollin Trujillo

    Great post. I’ve always thought mission statements were pretty silly too. Those and casual Fridays. ..

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks – that should be a mission statement: “We don’t do casual Fridays”

  • Jwkathol

    The ideal mission statement should have no verbs and plenty of alliteration, with an unexpected twist at the end:
    Performance, Price, Peace Out.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      and extra points for having a consonant to vowel ratio of 10:1

  • Raymond Bowman

    Raymond Bowman’s goal is to provide primarily humorous and insightful comments to blog posts. Raymond Bowman strives to make the first joke or an original joke, never both, and he pledges to sandwich anything that could be construed as negative between two compliments.

    I laughed at the H&R block one, really nailed it there. I also thought it was ironic that you revered the brevity of the Nike mission and then used redundant adjectives (short and succinct) to describe it. Solid post.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      thanks Raymond – maybe I should do more of these soapbox rant posts since I seem to think so many things are stupid. Thanks for chiming in, I really appreciate it.

      (see how I did the positive- negative – positive thing there?)

  • quoin

    My problem with these statements is that they are not missions as much as general guidelines, and are impossible to complete. Riffing on your New Year’s post, the Merriam-Webster definition of a mission is “a task or job that someone is given to do”. Who would take a job with that description? No end game. No big party with a “Mission Accomplished” banner hanging over the copier.

    I think it would be much more valuable to a firm to state a mission, complete, party, and repeat. Be it a day, a month, 5 years, whatever…

    And, for the record, we don’t have a mission statement. No need to be pigeon-holed by the outside world, and no need to focus on direction within. Being chameleons certainly has advantages.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I think we should define a missions statement as “Rules for doing stuff you should be doing anyways”

  • Ken Weinert

    “… and I didn’t read it either.”

    Love that – and glad I’m not the only one.

  • Robert Ross

    Observation: The shorter the mission statement, the more expensive the consultant!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t have one, maybe I should reevaluate my fees, can’t be less than none

  • Sheri Scott Arch

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know if it is a mission statement, but on my planner every morning I write: Be Kind and Productive. That pretty much covers it for me. And, yes, I have to be reminded every morning.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      in true mission statement protocol, you should go back and evaluate the success and validity of that statement – do you start each day by evaluating if you were kind and productive the day before?

      Mine would typically read “was sort of kind, very busy but not very productive”

  • Kerry Hogue

    isn’t the mission statement one of the first things you see in a strategic plan? that is yet another vital corporate document!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      another document that should be on your company’s website

  • rebekah kik

    Thank you for this awesome laugh first thing in the morning. It does however make me want to delete every profile I’ve ever written immediately and just write “hire me. i’m likeable. you won’t regret it.” nuf said.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      you might want to throw in something about ‘Karate’, it seems like that would be a good idea.

  • http://www.leecalisti.com/ Lee Calisti, AIA

    1. Good post
    2. You should be less ambiguous
    3. I have no other point, but everyone else makes three points to sound important.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      1. Thank you
      2. I appreciate the advice
      3. Solid observation
      4. Sometimes 4 is even better

  • Mark J R Mattes, AIA

    Ok, I’ll go first:
    Mattes Architects & Designers was founded to provide responsible,
    practical and ethical design services primarily to the business, death
    care and church markets. We strive to provide a positive architectural
    experience by helping to create something of lasting value to our
    clients.
    At least I’m striving :)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      and reasonable … design services. Extra points for making the experience positive.

      So are you a fan of mission statements in general or have you come over to the dark side (aka “my side”)

    • quoin

      Wow. I just learned that death care is a thing.

      • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

        me too!