I once had a product idea I called Mission Statement in a Can.
It would be a container of 50 tiles with the names of different power words on each one, such as determination, honesty, leadership, justice, fun, respect, reputation and so on. You shake the can up, close your eyes, reach in and grab four or five tiles and use them to fill the blanks below.
That’s your mission statement.
Do I sound cynical?
I’m not saying it’s not important to have a mission statement. It’s an extremely valuable tool for defining the firm’s core values and objectives and motivating and inspiring your team.
But how do you break the perception that a mission statement is just a bunch of platitudes?
I have a couple of suggestions:
First, make it a collaborative effort. Bring the whole team or at least your core team together to create it. Get a facilitator to guide everyone through the process.
Second, treat it like a story creation session. Make the process fun and relatable to people.
What is a mission but a story? Just as every business should have a mission, every business should have a story.
What are the elements of a story and how do they apply to the story of your agency?
Every story has a hero. In Star Wars (part 4; the first movie made), the hero is Luke Skywalker. In the story of your agency, your agency is the hero.
A good story has a guru or a teacher — someone who guides the hero on his or her journey or mission. In Star Wars it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the story of your agency, it’s you and your team.
Every story has a problem that needs solving or you might say, a mission that the hero must undertake. In Star Wars, Luke must rescue Princess Leia and defeat the Imperial Forces.
As an insurance agency, your mission is defined by the specific needs of your clients. Think about what that means at the most conceptual level. If your clients are design professionals, for example, your mission is not just to sell them insurance but help them with ways to reduce risk.
Here is how I would translate some of the typical mission statement questions into story language:
- Mission Statement Language: Who are our constituencies? Story Language: Who are we as the good guys trying to help? (Customers, employees, management, community)
- Mission Statement Language: What needs do we fulfill? Story Language: What is our quest or mission? (For example, relief from uncertainty, risk reduction, simplicity, and in the age of Obamacare, regulatory compliance.)
- Mission Statement Language: What are our core values? Story Language: What truths do we uphold? (These could include innovation, customer satisfaction, excellence and integrity; for a list of values or virtues, see this link: http://jamesclear.com/core-values)
Just because it’s a mission statement doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it, right? It’s fun, but it’s serious.
There will probably be many answers to each question. The facilitator’s role is to get group consensus and come up with definitive answers. When all the questions are answered (and there can be more than the ones I’ve listed), the team is ready to write the mission statement, which needs to be short and concise, no more than 40 words.
Again, we use the story as our model. If we were writing a mission statement for a movie we might use a formula like this:
Likewise a mission statement formula for an insurance agency might be:
This could be a specific example of that:
I’m just offering the story analogy as way to help the team better relate to and engage with the process.
If the team members are committed to the process, they will finish this exercise believing in and seeing themselves as part of the agency’s story. They will be committed to the mission statement they created and own it for themselves.
They will not need to purchase Mission Statement in a Can. Darn.
Here’s a caveat. Mission statements for all the good they do the firm are not marketing documents.
For that you need to make the customer the hero.
For next time.