Stephen Wilbers: Brewing up a strong mission statement

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2010 - 5:06 PM

Think I'll try something new. Something bold and exciting. I know. I'll start a business.

What do I need?

Let's see. An idea for a product that offers unique or competitively priced value. A market for my product. A marketing plan to create demand for my product. Investment capital to help me develop, produce, warehouse, market and deliver my product. What else? Might have to hire and train a few employees. Of course, I'll need to file a few forms with the government regarding taxes, etc. No problem.

Is that everything? Oh, yes. A mission statement. Should be easy, especially since I've given my idea so much careful thought.

To be effective, my mission statement should:

• Describe what my organization aspires to be.

• Identify my core values.

• Connect my mission to my stakeholders in a meaningful way.

• Be both inspiring and unique, both general and specific.

• Use word choice and sentence structure to create a pleasing sound.

I should have done this long ago. It's like falling off a log. So here's my statement: "Our mission is to make the world a better place."

Perfect! Well, maybe not. It's certainly inspiring, but it's not unique. It's general, but not specific. Needs to be all four.

OK, second draft: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit." I like it, I like it. But it's still too general.

Now if I go with my idea of selling coffee by opening a chain of coffeehouses around the world, I should probably refer to my product in some way. Let's see. I know: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit -- one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time." Yes! Now I'm cooking on all four burners. I mean, roasting.

My statement works not only because it's both inspiring and unique, both general and specific, but also because it avoids jargon and it uses sentence structure to good effect. Note the emphasis created by the dash (use a dash for dashing effect, as they say) and by the repetition "one ... one ... one ...."

When I compare my statement to a competitor's -- "To create an experience that makes the day better by focusing on three key elements: high-quality, differentiated product, coffeehouse environment and dedication to customer service" -- I know I have the advantage, even if my competitor has neat-sounding paragraphs under each of those three elements.

I'm equally pleased when I look at another competitor's statement: "To be a center of excellence for community gathering that brings good taste, conversation and provides a relaxing environment to people's lives," which is flawed by cliches and nonparallel structure.

Piece of cake. I mean, cup of coffee. Ah, I can just smell those coffee beans roasting. Yum!

Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

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