How Many Mission Statements Do You Need?

mission statements
Photo by Tara Winstead:

Can you have more than one mission?  What are the different levels and types of mission statement?

Trying to come up with a short pithy mission statement that encompasses everything you are about in life is not an easy task!  Do not worry – the concept of mission statements is bigger than just one individual phrase, as I will try to explain.  Mission statements exist in the context of lots of interlocking levels, generally not just as some isolated goal that stands totally alone.

Different mission statements within a single company

Imagine a company, a company that makes toilet rolls.  The vision of the company is that every posterior in the world should be blessed by the ultra-soft ‘Cushionette’ produced by the business.  They have defined their mission, their measure of success as: ‘to have a roll of Cushionette available in every lavatory in the world’.  It is a bold and audacious mission. 

Different departments, different mission statements?

There are many departments within the company to allow it to function properly.  There are Sales; the guys in sales have a mission statement that is almost exactly the same as the company mission because they are trying to sell the product into as many spaces ‘in the world’ as possible.  For the Quality Control team, the mission statement is easy too, they need to make sure each roll of Cushionette is ‘ultra soft’. 

How about the Finance team?  Defining the mission for the Finance team is somewhat harder.  It is harder still at an individual level: how do you create a mission statement that applies to the person who does the photocopying for the Finance team?  Yet, if they are going to be effective they need a mission that connects them to the greater vision and shows them how they can make a tangible difference in achieving the bigger goal. 

So the Reprographic Officer (photocopier person) will have their personal mission statement.  Let’s say in this case their mission statement is “to always produce copies that are timely, accurate and cost-efficient” but that mission is a sub-set of the Finance team mission, which is, in turn, a subset of the company mission. 

Linking and nesting mission statements

This is important as the more productive each individual and team is the more productive the overall effect is.  Also, one failure of the smallest element can bring down the whole thing.  If the ‘Vice President of Printed Communications’ (another photocopier person) fails to copy the company accounts on time, the company is put at risk. All right, so this is stretching the point somewhat but on a serious note, any communications process can have a major effect on the effectiveness of a team or company.

So from the example above we can see that within an organisation there will be various missions that all need to interlock vertically across the company.  It’s like those Russian dolls that fit inside one another.  Not clear yet?  Let’s investigate this from another angle; here is some background to the theory.

Mission Command

The Right Questions - Mission Statement
German soldier by Za Rodinu via Flickr

The military has probably spent more time and effort on developing the idea of a mission than anyone else, and in the British military this overlapping hierarchy of mission statements is referred to as ‘mission command’.  This decentralised approach is to some extent based on the lessons learned from the effectiveness of German Stormtroopers and the ‘manoeuvrist’ approach of Blitzkrieg warfare, but again don’t worry if this means nothing to you, you do not need to be an expert in military history to understand the basic principles. 

The idea behind mission command is to allow maximum freedom of movement, coordination and support at every level of the organisation by having interconnected mission statements.  It requires a highly trained and motivated force but when it works it is referred to as a force multiplier, in other words, it is highly effective and greater than the sum of its parts.  In business, this is sometimes referred to as ‘synergy’.

So maximum effectiveness is the aim; your main responsibility is to make sure you and/or your workforce are highly trained and motivated, and then to make sure the mission is clear and connected both up and down the organisation.

How to craft a mission statement

In the military, the mission statement actually comes in two parts.  There is both a ‘to’ and an ‘in order to’ phrase in the statement.  For example, I said earlier a mission might be ‘to capture the position on hill 321’ but it will also have a second half that says something like ‘in order to allow the battalion to advance’.  In other words, one mission is connected to another mission in a hierarchy.  In this case, the battalion cannot achieve its mission of advancing unless the enemy position on the hill is captured.  The battalion in turn will have a mission that connects to its higher command and so on up the chain. These go up from the tactical to operational, strategic and grand-strategic levels. That one mission to engage with the enemy on hill 321 will be part of a much larger picture such as a war between two sovereign states. Who knows, the whole campaign could pivot on that one action: that is why the mission is so important.

Mission statements work up and down and side to side

So just like the toilet roll company, all the missions interlock up and down the organisation. So that is the hierarchy – the up and down bit, but there is more.  There is a horizontal plane of mission as well as a vertical one. Every department in a company or every person in a team will have a slightly different mission but they need to complement each other. Crafting mission statements is likely correctly harnessing horses. You are trying to get people to pull together in the same direction.

As an individual you are likely to have a mission in your workplace that interconnects vertically and horizontally within that organisation but your career mission statement may have very little to do with other parts of your life.  Most of us have a range of responsibilities and wear a variety of different hats. Therefore we can expect to have different missions that are relevant to the various roles we play.  For example what is your contribution or role within your community?  What is your mission in terms of your family and relationships?

These personal mission statements have a hierarchy too as all the goals we set are effectively part of the mission and they only exist (or should only exist) to support the greater mission.  Confused? Don’t worry! Take a look at how to make an action plan.

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