Instead of a Mission Statement

May 16, 2012

Posted in General and Strategic Planning.

I facilitated a series of strategic planning sessions recently, and one of the first meetings included over an hour of debate over the organization’s mission statement. The current mission statement is so broad that it provides little guidance about which programs, initiatives, and investments to focus on. Anything and everything is fair game.

So we worked on narrowing it down and making it relevant to this group. Unfortunately, it led to a lengthy session of wordsmithing. In other words, the focus was on the how than the what.


The goal isn’t to have a mission statement but to have a mission.

One of the board members (a wise fellow despite having his MBA) argued that this was a waste of time, we realized the goal isn’t to have a mission statement but to have a mission. So last week, we regrouped and started by defining the mission around key values, not around a sentence or paragraph.

We took time to write down key words and phrases that we felt defined the purpose of the organization. This was rapid-fire, spitting out words and writing them on the whiteboard. Then we each selected the top three words for each person. At the end, we had six words that stood out. Everyone agreed that they defined the broad purpose of the organization.

I’m having these “mission words” printed up and posted in the board room, and I’m including them on all of our meeting documents going forward. People can rattle off six words, but too many of the board members couldn’t even recite the actual mission statement.

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