Strategic Planning 101--Developing a Mission Statement

"To provide economy and quality minded travelers with a premier, moderate priced lodging facility which is consistently perceived as clean, comfortable, well-maintained, and attractive, staffed by friendly, attentive and efficient people"

This mission statement, developed by the Courtyard by Marriott chain, is one of the best examples in business and industry of an effective and powerful mission statement. The development of such a mission statement is a critical component to any organization, and the fundamental step in the strategic planning process.

The Reasons for a Mission Statement

Developing a mission statement is a challenging process if done well. Organizations need to make a commitment to the process, but the benefits are well worth the effort. The following benefits can be realized by an organization embarking on the mission development path.

1. Missions promote unity. A well-written and understood mission statement can rally the entire organization around a core set of values and reasons for being. Focusing on the most important purposes of an organization brings clarity to expectations.

2. Missions help allocate scarce resources. No organization has all the resources it could use, whether financial, environmental or human. Resource allocation decisions are among the hardest, but linking those decisions to an organization's mission makes them more reasoned and defensible.

3. Missions help move from ideas to action. Undertaking the strategic planning steps of goal setting, developing objectives and defining measures are impossible without the critical step of defining the mission. This applies to the organization as a whole as well as to subunits and individuals.

4. Missions establish culture. The culture of an organization emanates from the entity's mission and from its leaders. The effort to modify organizational culture can be daunting, but the acceptance of an organizational mission statement can ease the task and help overcome resistance to these changes.

The Characteristics of a Mission Statement

According to the CCH Business Owner's Toolkit, a mission statement should have the following four attributes to be successful.

1. Elicits an emotional, motivational response in employees. The rank and file should be able to identify with the mission statement, using it to make decisions and focus their energies.

2. Be easily understood and be transferred into individual action. The mission statement should be a practical tool to allow employees to see how their part of the organization relates to the greater whole of the mission. At its best, a mission statement breathes daily in the lives of the employees.

3. Is a measurable, tangible goal. Employees, managers, shareholders and other should be able to measure the organization's performance against its mission. Lofty, ethereal missions are less effective than measurable, quantifiable ones.

4. Is rooted in the competitive environment. Each organization is in competition for something; even monopolies have to maintain value in their product. There is not much value today in having a monopoly in buggy whips. Measuring the competition and linking your mission statement to competitive advantage works.

One Way to Craft a Mission Statement--The Q&A Model

While the development of a mission statement takes time and effort by many factions, the effort normally should center around getting answers to three vital questions, and then building those answers into the mission statement. The questions are:

1. What is our most significant market? Whom do we serve? Who makes our business worthwhile? Which part of the market is our target?

2. What is our contribution to the market? What value do we add to the customer's life and work? How are the members of our target market better because of us.

3. How do we rise above the competition in making that contribution? What distinguishes our product or service from our competitors? What SHOULD distinguish us? What is our unique niche?

As these questions are evaluated, a mission statement will start to evolve. Look at the Courtyard by Marriott statement at the beginning of this article. Let's see how it measures up.

At Courtyard, the significant market is economy and quality minded travelers. Courtyard contributes premier, moderate priced lodging facilities to their market. True, but so do many other hotel chains. Courtyard's distinction is that its properties will be perceived as clean, comfortable, well maintained and attractive, with friendly, attentive and efficient people.

By following these guidelines, your organization can work to develop its own powerful and effective mission statement, and receive the significant benefits that follow this critical process.

In future articles in this series, we will cover issues such as establishing organizational vision, goal setting, developing action plans, and using performance measures.