Monday, December 7, 2009

The Mission Statement Wrestling Match

A CLIENT OF MINE IS WRESTLING WITH REVISING ITS mission statement. And wrestling is a good word for it. Writing a deceptively simple, but truly meaningful, statement is not easy. So many mission statements are mired in the what's and how's of an organization's activities that they barely acknowledge an audience or rarely talk about the whys of their existence. (Hint: audience and the whys of existence are the two most important things.)

I've written (and spoken) a lot about this here. One of the connecting themes to all those posts is about digging deep to taste and savor meaning; to layer in texture and color; to make the statement connect on some emotional level with the people who read it. In fact, the mission statement is not so much about helping the folks within the organization decipher what the organization is, as it's about helping folks outside the organization discover your power and purpose.

Here are some of the words from the image above that came from a mission brainstorming session: "design dialogue", "forge", "nurture", "weave", "enable", "facilitate relationships", "outreach", "galvanize". These are the people words of an organization. These, and other words like them, are the connective tissue that is so often missing in the "official" statements organizations use when talking about themselves.

I'll use my client's example (with names changed, of course) to show you what I'm talking about. The current mission statement is this:

The mission of the Old House Museum is presently to preserve the Smith family home in Our Town, interpret its history between 1740 and 1880 and educate the public.

Really grabs you, doesn't it? The focus is squarely on preserving that old house and talking about its evolution. Oh, yeah -- and educating the public. "Educating the public" reads like an afterthought to me.

So, they're thinking they might want to revise the current statement to this:

The mission of the Old House Museum is to preserve the Our Town home of the Smith family, prominent merchants and heroic patriots, who lived here for many generations, and to engage the community by sharing their history through educational programs and exhibits.

But, frankly, it's just a longer version of what they already have. Would this make you want to visit or become involved any more than the mission statement they already have?

What if the museum were to put the community engagement piece first? What if the mission is about bringing you into the story of how one person, one family, can have an impact on the course of community and country? The dynamic starts to change. Regular folks can start to see themselves in that mission -- you've opened the door to your organization for them.

So, here are three suggestions for revising your lackluster mission statement today:
  • Write a mission statement for the person who doesn't know anything about you.
  • Focus the first phrase or sentence of your statement on your audience.
  • Let readers see themselves in the story of your mission by connecting the whys of what your organization does to their lives.
Can you help my client by redrafting their mission statement?

Photo: Mission Statement Brainstorming from design_bridge_do


kay sato said...

The Our Town Community will experience first-hand what it once meant to be a prominent merchant and heroic patriot, by engaging in educational programs, exhibits, and activities which highlight the lives of the Smith Family, builders of the Old House Museum and its occupants for generations.

Anne W. Ackerson said...

Thanks, Kay! Good to hear from you.