Want to Inspire? Start with Why

When a mission statement is well written, it serves as a declaration of purpose. But corporate mission statements are often little more than a descriptive sentence about products, aspirations or desired public perceptions. They’re more powerful when they clearly and specifically articulate the difference your business strives to make in the world.

Here’s an example from Roy Spence’s book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For:

Consider this mission statement by a large grocery chain: “Our goal is to be the first choice for those customers who have the opportunity to shop locally in [our stores]. To achieve this goal [we] aim to be best at fresh, best at availability, best at customer service, best at product and price.”

It’s a long list of what the company will be best at, but nothing about customers, employees, communities or society. Compare that with another food chain’s mission statement:

To help consumers find foods that offer more nutrition for the calories as they make choices in each department of our stores, thereby helping food shoppers make healthier choices.

Which statement do you find more engaging? If your mission statement isn’t compelling and engaging, you can’t expect employees to care, can you?

Leaders who want to succeed should straightforwardly communicate what they believe in and why they’re so passionate about their cause, according to business consultant Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio, 2010).

Most people know what they do and how they do it, Sinek says, but few communicate why they’re doing it.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy into why you do it,” he emphasizes.

If you don’t know and cannot communicate why you take specific actions, how can you expect employees to become loyal followers who support your mission?

The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. ~ James Baldwin, author

I’d love to hear from you: what’s been your experience with the mission statements of the companies you’ve worked for?

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