How to Develop a Mission Statement and guiding Principles for Your Business

Mission accomplished? In business, you can’t answer that question unless you have precisely defined, in advance, what the mission is. A mission statement and guiding principles function as much more than words on paper. They are vital tools to keep everyone on the same page, energized and motivated to reach the same end goal.

Because a mission statement identifies your company’s reason for being and verbalizes how your product or service uniquely meets the current and anticipated needs of your customers, it represents the core of your “apple”, the basis of your business plan and the starting point in developing strategies to achieve the results you want. Guiding principles can be thought of as a “manual” that details how you envision implementing that mission statement.

Of course, the marketplace changes. Consumer demands shift. Trends emerge. Companies downsize and expand. Although a mission statement should hold up long term, you want to plan an annual review in case changing internal and/or external conditions dictate a reevaluation.

What do a mission statement and guiding principles do?

To be effective, a mission statement not only addresses the “who we are” and “who we want to be” of a company, it should also be designed to inspire commitment from staff and loyalty from customers and vendors. Yes, you will want to get input from every insider and outsider involved in your business.

What it does is convey in concise terms (underline concise), in easy-to- understand everyday language, how a company defines itself: its values, attitude to customers, vision, and measure of success. Guiding principles elaborate on that statement, providing added specific information on how that mind-set applies to day-to-day business. Your MO or modus operandi so to speak.

Keeping both the statement and principles simple and straightforward is no small undertaking. You want the mission statement to be short and sweet, to the point, and easy enough for everyone to remember. You will be forced to strip away any “spin” from your thinking and focus, focus, focus.

What are some examples of strong mission statements?

Let’s look at two companies who started small and achieved world renown in their categories: Starbucks and Google. You would have to live on another planet if you’ve never had a Starbucks coffee or never used Google to search the Internet.

Starbucks started with one store in Seattle in the 1970s. By the 1990s, the coffee house had expanded internationally. Now you can find Starbucks in 50 some countries.

Starbucks’ mission is: “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

They have six guiding principles covering product, personnel, customers, stores, neighborhood, and shareholders as well as a separate environmental mission statement.” This is a perfect example of a short and concise mission statement that clearly communicates the essence of how they envision their company.

In support of their mission statement, Starbucks has six principles to guide them on how they live their mission every day. The principles cover the major areas, which define their business: product, personnel, customers, stores, neighborhood, and shareholders.

On the subject of employees, Starbucks calls them “Our Partners” and explains that, “It’s not just a job, it’s our passion. Together, we embrace diversity to create a place where each of us can be ourselves. We always treat each other with respect and dignity. And we hold each other to that standard.” Using that as an example, consider how you would describe your company’s view of its personnel.

Here’s Starbucks’ credo on customers: “When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers – even if just for a few moments. Sure, it starts with the promise of a perfectly made beverage, but our work goes far beyond that. It’s really about human connection.”

Assuming you have been a Starbucks customer, has your personal experience lived up to this guiding principle? If you’re a regular, you’re likely greeted by name and the baristas will know what you want when you say, “The usual.” Look around and take notice of how the surroundings are pleasant and relaxed with smiles behind the counter and people at the tables enjoying conversations, checking email, studying or reading. Wouldn’t you agree that Starbucks has successfully executed their philosophy? Their success certainly says they have. Wouldn’t you want your business to make you, your staff, your customers, and suppliers feel that same human connection?

Like Starbucks, Google has become a part of contemporary culture. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded the company in 1998 and only six years later, went public on the NASDAQ! Their Web site states that they “became successful precisely because we were better and faster at finding the right answer than other search engines at the time.”

But it isn’t only because of their technology. While Google does not have a mission statement per se, they do have guiding principles titled, “Ten Things We Know to be True.” Again, simple language.

At the top of the list is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” One excerpt from their description reads, “We take great care to ensure that they (their products) will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.” Yes, the word you is printed in bold type.

Another of their Ten Things: “You can make money without doing evil.” In this one, they go on to explain the dos and don’ts of their advertising programs and practices.

In the section titled, “You can be serious without a suit,” Google expresses an attitude toward employees that is not dissimilar to Starbucks’. It reads in part: “Our founders built Google around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun. We believe that great, creative things are more likely to happen with the right company culture – and that doesn‘t just mean lava lamps and rubber balls. There is an emphasis on team achievements and pride in individual accomplishments that contribute to our overall success. We put great stock in our employees – energetic, passionate people from diverse backgrounds with creative approaches to work, play and life.”

Even if you classify your business as nuts-and-bolts, keeping the door open to creativity and innovation can lead improvements in efficiency and competitiveness as well as new business opportunities.

Interestingly, Google comments in an “update” that their list was written years ago. So, when you create your mission statement and guiding principles, as previously recommended, you want the beliefs to hold true well into the future and hopefully only require occasional tweaking.

What are the steps to develop a mission statement and guiding principles?

Now that you’ve seen examples from two high-profile companies, it’s time to work on your own mission statement. This is not a one-person job. Nor is it something you can knock out overnight. The more opinions you get, inside and outside the company, the more effective your final mission statement and guiding principles will be. Be prepared to answer some tough questions as you follow this step-by-step guide:

  1. List the strengths of your business. For instance, what do your loyal customers like most about your company? Do you have a strong level of professionalism in your ranks? Does your name have high awareness in your industry? Are you quick to act if an opportunity comes along?
  2. List the weaknesses of your business. Where could you improve? Are you satisfied with the turnover rate internally? Are you getting customer complaints related to delivery or quality? Have you missed opportunities? Is competition heating up? What roadblocks are affecting your growth? Be brutally honest here.
  3. List your primary target. What are the demographics of your customers: age bracket, income level, occupation or lifestyle? Are they online or brick-and-mortar buyers? Is your product or service an impulse item or a considered purchase? How do you reach your segment of the market?
  4. Describe your vision. Do you want to be a local business or expand nationally, possibly globally? How can you convey this in an appealing way to people within and outside the company? Do some brainstorming with others to get a fresh perspective.
  5. Draft a description of your business based on information from the first four steps.
  6. Draft three or four different versions of a mission statement. Use active verbs when possible and start with the most important point.
  7. Research these drafts. Ask employees, customers and suppliers to comment on their likes and dislikes working with or buying from the company as you described it. Get feedback through phone calls or e-mails on the different versions of the mission statement.
  8. Fine tune the drafts. Address the comments you received and condense, condense, condense so that every word carries weight and “jumps off the page.”
  9. Critique the finals. Have you been realistic? Have you been specific? Do the words guide and inspire employees and managers to make decisions to achieve the set goal?
  10. Using the same information you collected to develop your mission statement, you can now develop a list of guiding principles that support your statement.

Who should see the final mission statement and guiding principles?

Going through the process will have given you a clearer insight into your business and the way forward. So the answer is: share your mission statement and guiding principles with everybody! Let it act as a daily reminder of the company’s persona and aspirations. It belongs not only in your business plan. You can also post it in offices and include it in marketing materials. If you developed a slogan/motto, you can even add that to your e-mail signature. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on formulating the mission statement and guiding principles. Job well done. First mission accomplished!