Mission Statements have long been one of my pet peeves. These short summaries of a company’s purpose, typically couched in terms of actions-to-be-taken, usually to satisfy a particular target constituency, have long enjoyed the favor of academics and investors alike. Most recommend, indeed insist, that companies draft these statements. Often, these “visions” are little more than window dressing.
First, the arguments in favor of mission statements. “Experts” claim that mission statements are vital. According to them, these statements ensure that everyone who works with and for a company shares the same values and has the same objectives. A good mission statement is often credited with giving employees a sense of identity while engendering a positive corporate culture.
I can recall the exact moment when I first questioned the value of corporate mission statements. It occurred some years ago at a bankruptcy auction, where the assets for a small regional bank were going under the gavel. Among the copiers, desks, computers and the like was a large, gilt-framed copy of the bank’s mission statement. While I cannot recall the exact words, it read something like this: “Our mission is to be the most successful bank in (our market), providing exceptional service to our depositors, shareholders, employees and the community at large.” This executive suite wall-hanging attracted no bids and ended the day in a dumpster with the other trash.
Since that time, I’ve worked with many an entrepreneur who spent an inordinate amount of time crafting his/her corporate mission. For what everyday purpose? These documents, while revered by HR departments everywhere, have limited post-hiring value. In my experience employees are motivated by the tasks at hand, like: Launching Product A or Service A; or meeting annual sales targets. Motivated by mission statements? Not so much.
Oh, and that blather about Mission Statements being valued by investors? Consider SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies). These companies, while quite popular with investors, have no true missions beyond raising money for an unspecified future deal. If one was to believe in the importance of mission statements, investors would shy away from such amorphous vehicles.
Consider also the following mission statement excerpts from well known, successful firms. Even at first glance they are too broad to be informative and, let’s face it, too vague to be inspiring:
“Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness.” WeWork (2019)
“Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone.” Uber.
“Airbnb‘s mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere . . ..”
“Rivian is on a mission to keep the world adventurous forever.”
So, before you spend time drafting a mission statement for your new business, take the time to perfect an elevator pitch. That concise statement of what you company does now and what it will do in the near future will be far more compelling to investors than any statement about how your company will make the world a better place.
Mr. Dragone has spent the past twenty years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of start-ups in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He was a co-founder of Keurig.