4 Bad Mission Statements (and How To Do Better With Yours)

Defining your purpose in life is a hefty goal. Perhaps that’s why there are so many bad mission statements out there that we can learn from.

4 Bad Mission Statements (and How To Do Better With Yours)

One of the most important but too easily overlooked aspects of your business is your mission statement. Basically a concise statement articulating the most essential information about your organization, your mission statement aligns everyone involved with you around the same core goals and company values.

A good mission statement should give a clear and direct overview of your company — including what it sells and what motivates your employees to do what they do. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, many companies don’t invest time in their mission statements and assemble something that’s clunky, wordy, or simply unclear, and this can have a damaging impact down the road.

How do you put together a rockstar mission statement? We’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn more about what makes for a good mission statement and (no less important) what pitfalls to avoid.

What is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a short sentence or paragraph that explains to customers, shareholders, employers and everyone in between what you do and why you do it.

A great mission statement should outline what your product or service is, who you sell to, what core values you believe in, and perhaps most importantly, what motivates you to do this. Think of your company’s mission statement as your most succinct, digestible description of itself.

Short and sweet, right?

Unfortunately, many companies either don’t invest the time to develop their mission statement, or simply don’t put in the effort to articulate one that works. The result? Misalignment on their aims, values and motivations, which can leave anyone who works with (or within) that organization feeling directionless and dispirited.

Why a Good Mission Statement is Important for Your Company

Getting your mission statement right is vital. Not only does it align everyone who works with and for your company around the same values and point them toward the same objectives, it also ensures that you’re attracting the right customers and clients.

For example, if you run a coffee distribution company that prides itself on its concern for the environment, include that in your mission statement! You’ll attract employees who share those values, customers who want to work with sustainable growers and investors who want to use their resources to protect the environment. All of this is better for business.

A good mission statement keeps your business well-grounded and well-organized. It encourages each employee to think creatively about how to achieve your highest objectives, engenders a strong sense of identity that can shape and permeate your culture in a positive way, and it keeps all elements of your company working in sync.

Importantly, the right mission statement also helps company executives assess their business’s performance. Success metrics should naturally be defined in relation to your stated objectives. If your goal is to promote greater sustainability, you should have a way of demonstrating to your customers, employees and shareholders that you’re actually delivering on those goals.

Examples of Mission Statements that Don’t Sell Their Vision

1. “Be the best in the eyes of our customers, employees and shareholders.”

American Standard’s mission statement has since undergone a major overhaul, but it made the rounds on the internet for having a statement that, well, basically outlined the main goal of every company that has ever gone into business. This one is clearly lacking strong motivators, guiding principles and objectives beyond the very basic level, and it gives the audience very little in the way of understanding what American Standard does and stands for.

2. “Undisputed marketplace leadership.”

Another one that (fortunately) didn’t stand the test of time, the Hershey Company’s former mission statement was so short and concise, it barely conveyed anything about Hershey at all. This one would have been well-served by teasing out in greater detail the reasons Hershey strove for this objective, while providing a little nuance into how the company defined leadership in this space.

3. “The Home Depot is in the home improvement business and our goal is to provide the highest level of service, the broadest selection of products and the most competitive prices.”

If you removed the name The Home Depot from this mission statement, it could apply to just about any home improvement business out there today. Good service, quality products and competitive prices are good, but for most customers, that’s the bare minimum. The Home Depot would be better served by including a spritz of passion into this statement, and it might choose to drive home a broader purpose like helping their customers craft warm, welcoming homes for their families.

4. “Dell’s mission is to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.”

This was the mission statement Dell ran with prior to its acquisition of EMC. Similar to the others on this list, the first problem is that it’s too generic. Being the “most successful” and delivering the “best customer experience” are likely among every serious computer company’s goals, so stating this does little to help Dell stand out. Worse, too much of the statement is narrowly devoted to the company’s internal goals — its private success — offering little room for the customer to fit into its vision.

Key Takeaways: What Makes for a Good Mission Statement?

Short, sweet and to the point. People don’t have too much time on their hands as it is, and they don’t want to spend precious amounts of their time reading a multi-paragraph-long mission statement, especially if they’re unsure they want to buy your product or service. You need to make sure you’re able to convey all the essential points in as few words as possible. Let your customers know you’re ready to get down to business.

Stay flexible. Don’t put together a mission statement that too narrowly focuses on one set of problems, motivators, a specific customer or even just a selection of your products/services. Remember: You never know who might find your products or services useful. Don’t make your mission statement too narrow and scare away potential clients and customers.

Be open to change. Everyone knows there’s always room for improvement. Your business is constantly evolving to keep up with market trends, customer behavior, new regulations and everything else that comes with running a business. Demonstrate your company’s agility by having the capacity to pivot with your mission statement to keep up with the times.

Be honest, and let your company shine through. The “fake it ‘till you make it” mantra does not apply with mission statements. If your presentation is not your company’s authentic self, it will come back to haunt you. Customers will eventually see through the facade and your business will suffer in the long-run. Take the time to identify your sincere motivations and objectives, and share these with your customers in plain language. The right customers will come to you, and that’s always better for business.

Don’t underestimate the power of a great mission statement. Clearly defining your company mission brings everyone together to work toward the same goals, whereas a bad statement can throw your company out of alignment and cause confusion. It’s a simple step, but it requires a deep and thorough understanding of the values that drive your leadership team and employees, what sort of meaningful objectives your company wants to achieve, and the path for getting there.

All of this boosts the cohesiveness and power of your company’s branding and marketing.