Mission Statements: Is Yours Just Ink On Paper?

Do you know your organization’s mission statement? Can you recite it word for word? Most would answer no to this question. But can you even summarize the general idea behind the mission statement? If the answer to this question is no, then what is the point of having a mission statement?

A mission statement is a call to order within the corporate proving ground. It is a statement that initiates action, formulates direction, and maintains key core values for all within the organization to follow. This serves as a template and defines the action and purpose of the corporate structure. At the corporate inception, key personnel toil and labor to focus in on a single unifying statement that will inspire and guide all workers at all levels consistently. Because it is challenging to summarize within one statement, it usually ends up being several statements with bullet points and unending commas throughout. Customarily the mission statement is posted throughout the building and emphasized in new employee orientations. Why is it so important to have a mission statement if no one within the organization can tell you what it is or what it means? Since most agree that the mission statement is a “must have” for all organizations, shouldn’t every employee be able to at least know the basic gist behind their organization’s mission statement? Is it just ink on paper or is there more to it?

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Increasingly, mission statements have been viewed as a strong management tool that motivates employees and keeps them focused on the purpose of the organization. In a recent research effort by William Brown, he investigated employee attitudes toward the mission at a service organization. Specifically, this study examined how employee attitudes toward the mission were related to employee satisfaction and to what extent these attitudes toward the mission accounted for expressed intentions to stay with the organization. He found that employees expressing positive attitudes towards the mission of the organization also had attitudes relating to employee satisfaction and intentions to remain with the organization. He points out that it is important for management to be clear about the mission and not only talk about it to employees but also live and breathe it themselves and be an example to everyone.

So, we all agree that mission statements are important as the foundation of an organization. But how many of you can recite a mission statement for any organization you have ever worked for? Bob Lewis, President of an IT company, recently wrote an article about the perfect mission statement. He promotes that it needs to be five words or less. If you are like me, that sounds impossible. Most have adopted the view that mission statements need to be detailed descriptions of a company’s purpose which is hard to summarize in five words or less! However, Lewis considers a company’s mission to also be their brand. “When a business builds a brand, it’s establishing the expectations it wants customers to have when doing business with it.” Employees and customers alike get lost in lengthy, dull mission statements ultimately leading to no retention of what exactly the point or purpose is. Think of how effective it would be to post up a sign all over your building saying “Lower costs, better technology” (assuming that fits what your company is trying to accomplish). Think about the purpose of a mission statement. Is it to summarize every possible goal you have for your business in one page or less? Or is it something you would like for every employee and customer to remember and think of when your business name is mentioned? If it is in fact something you want everyone to remember, Lewis’ idea of five words or less may not be a bad place to start. We have all heard that our short term memory has a capacity of seven words plus or minus two. And more modern estimates are even lower stating a capacity of four to five words maximum. Therefore, as employees and customers enter your organization, having a short phrase summarizing your mission as a company seems like it would be more effective than a whole page of bullet points and big words stating your purpose.

As we learned from William Brown’s research earlier, if your employees know and understand your mission, it could lead to increased job satisfaction and retention. In fact, National Business Research Institute (NBRI) was recently asked to conduct employee satisfaction surveys for a U.S. company that provides solutions for the telecommunications industry to assess job satisfaction and retention among other issues. NBRI deployed 13,700 surveys and received 12,600 completed surveys yielding a 92% response rate. The results reached a 99.999% confidence interval with a 1% sampling error giving the business confidence that the results of the survey were valid and representative of the employee population. Using benchmarking data, a Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Threats (SWOT) analysis was conducted. This enables management to get an immediate grasp of the overall results of the study. Items with benchmarking scores between the 75th and 100th percentiles are regarded as “Strengths”. “Opportunities for Improvement” are items with benchmarking scores between the 50th and 74th percentiles. Items with benchmarking scores between the 25th and 49th percentile are “Weaknesses” and those items between the 1st and 24th percentiles are classified as “Threats”. In this study, the industry’s average is represented by the 50th percentile because the benchmarking database is very large including over 250,000 individual opinions per survey question.

Now, think about your employees. How many do you think would say they know your company’s mission statement? Unfortunately for this particular company, only 21% said they knew the mission statement. Because this score was between 1st and 24th percentiles, it was in the Threat category. Thirty-five out of sixty survey questions landed in the Weakness category (58% of the items). Among these items were “I plan to be working here five years from now” (41%), “Top management has a vision for the future” (35%), “”I know top management’s vision for the future” (31%), “I know the Values Statement” (29%) and “I know the Vision Statement” (28%). Given these results, management can clearly see that their employees do not feel connected to the organization as a whole and as a result, retention and job satisfaction may be an issue. Further, the majority of their employees do not think that top management has a vision for the future. It appears that employees are not seeing the big picture and more importantly, they are not seeing management walk the talk. These results can speak volumes to management and aid in resolving the underlying issues before they become a huge problem.

It is important for employees at all levels of an organization to know and understand the purpose of the organization, its mission. Employees that know their greater purpose within an organization and how they fit into the big picture are more likely to be satisfied with their job and stick with it. Now I bet you are wondering if your mission is clear to all of your employees. Could that be why your retention rate is falling? Are your employees satisfied? A great way to find out if they do know the mission as well as their level of job satisfaction and other key issues facing organizations today is through employee satisfaction surveys. The results of the survey will give you detailed, unbiased, and reliable information that can aid in making key decisions regarding the success of your organization. Among numerous other factors, this information will clearly tell you whether your mission statement is just ink on paper and whether your employees are satisfied and planning on staying with the organization. Once you have this information, you can assess what is going on in your organization and be proactive regarding changes that need to be made.

If you would like to learn more about how NBRI can help your company develop the necessary knowledge base to answer the question “Is your Mission Statement just ink on paper?” contact us now at 1-800-756-6168.

Dr. Jamye Henry, Ph.D.
Research Associate
National Business Research Institute, Inc.

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