Why Most Mission Statements Fail (And How to Write A Great One)

Donald Miller

Published: Apr 19, 2024

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Your company will live and die based on how clearly you articulate an engaging mission.

Unfortunately, most company mission statements aren't helpful to anyone. How many times have you heard a company's mission statement that sounded like this?

We exist to increase stakeholder value by serving customers with integrity and excellence.

Why most mission statements fail

There are three main reasons most mission statements don't get remembered and don't work. 

  1. They don't include specific economic objectives
  2. They don't include a deadline
  3. They don't answer the question "why"

But when you do include these three element in your mission statement, you invite yourself and your team into a story that matters.

Every human being wants to play a role in an important story. And when you create a mission statement using the formula I'm about to show you, you'll give your employees (and yourself) a part to play in a story bigger than any one individual. 

A formula for a great mission statement

A mission statement that is specific inspires action while a mission statement that is vague causes confusion.

You want to open a "story loop" in the minds of your employees that can only be resolved by accomplishing your mission. The desire to close a story loop is called narrative traction, and it's the point at which we get interested in a good story. 

So what we will need to create a mission statement that drives narrative traction is:

  1. Three economic objectives
  2. A deadline
  3. A clear reason the mission is important

The best formula for a mission statement that includes all three elements necessary to create narrative traction is simple and goes like this:

We will accomplish X by Y because of Z.

When you use this formula to create your mission statement, your team alignment and productivity will skyrocket because your team needs to get to work to close the story loop.

Now let's dive into each element to help you craft a great mission statement. 

1. Include Three Primary Economic Objectives

The key to a successful business is this: Keep your business grounded in economic realities at all times.

Your business is a machine that exists to do two things:

  1. Serve customers
  2. Make a profit
For most small businesses, there are about three economic factors that determine their overall success. The reason we limit our mission statement to include only three economic objectives is because the human brain has trouble prioritizing more than three objectives at a time.
The old adage is true: If you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing.

To get the most out of your mission statement, your three economic priorities should do the following:

  • Be specific and measurable
  • Drive company revenue
  • Drive company profit

As an example, let's say you own a brewery. The first part of your mission statement should read something like this: 

We will increase our distribution of beer to 75 more restaurants, 4 more grocery store chains, and 27 bars.

2. Include a Deadline

Now that we have determined our three economic priorities, we can create a sense of urgency by including a deadline. How long will it take you to accomplish those priorities? A year? 18 months? Maybe more?

A ticking clock is an incredible device to increase you and your team’s focus and intensity as it relates to hitting those financial objectives. Including a deadline in your mission statement will increase urgency.

Let's include a deadline to our brewery mission statement:

We will increase our distribution of beer to 75 more restaurants, 4 more grocery store chains, and 27 bars by the end of the year.

3. Explain Why the Mission Matters

If you want to fully engage yourself and your team, add one last part to your mission statement. Close your mission statement by answering the question: because?

People really do want to help other people and adding a “because” to your mission is how we’re going to define the altruism necessary to truly have a mission.

Here are two things your mission statement can include to turn your goals into a true mission:

  1. A vision of a better world: Tell us, specifically, how the world will be better if you accomplish the mission. What will people see? What will they feel?
  2. A counterattack against an injustice: Tell us about the suffering people will no longer have to experience if you accomplish your mission. What broken thing will be restored?

When you include a reason your mission matters you and your team will be energized around a cause.

Now, let's revisit our brewery example and put it all together:

We will increase our distribution of beer to 75 more restaurants, 4 more grocery store chains, and 27 bars by the end of the year because people deserve to have a new favorite beer.

Put your mission statement into practice

Once you have your new mission statement, here are three ideas to help you effectively implement it effectively so everyone is aligned around your mission. 

  1. Open your All-Staff Meetings by reading through the mission statement
  2. On a monthly or quarterly basis, acknowledge a team
    member for advancing the mission and tell their story as a way of highlighting the mission
  3. Ask potential hires to read the mission statement and write down why the mission is important to them

When your business transforms into a business on a mission, you'll notice morale, productivity, and employee retention start to improve quickly. 

Want to create a mission statement and guiding principles package that drives growth? Download Business Made Simple's Guiding Principles Worksheet below: