Mission Soundbite

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Normally, I dislike the phrase "soundbite". It implies a shallow, bite-sized saying that misses all of the depth, nuance and complexity that exists in the real world.

Nonetheless, soundbites are successful precisely because they can convey - for better or for worse - a key idea in a short, memorable and often inspiring phrase.

Earlier this week, Josh Bernoff, in his bluntly named blog, gave the "Parable of Ray's Helicopter Company" to illustrate the dangers of a mission statement that tries to be everything to everyone. Just as Frederick the Great said, "he who defends everything defends nothing," we can say, "he who writes a mission statement to satisfy everyone satisfies no one."

I highly recommend reading Josh's post in its original. The short form is, your mission statement needs to inspire your people and capture the essence of what you stand for. It cannot be everything you and everyone in your company does, let alone how you do it. Amazon's customers do not care how many warehouses they have, or what language their Web site is written in; they do care that they can order online quickly and have it reliably delivered within 48 hours.

Josh's parable reminded me of a client I had several years ago who decided to put together a mission statement. Like many technology companies, they were proud of the great engineering work they had done and processes they had implemented to provide first-class customer service. They also had done some very serious work on their marketing materials as well as sales process, of which I was honoured to have played a part.

But marketing materials and sales pitches are not mission statements. In this case, however, the mission statement sounded too much like a sales pitch. It was longer than an entire paragraph, and inspired no one. Worse, it trapped the company's mission as a way of doing things, rather than a goal or mission to do. Like Ray's Helicopter Company, the "global team" is irrelevant, as is "machines with edge" or "excellent flying machines."

I sat with the CEO and said, "answer me one question: what do we care about? Truly, passionately, devotedly?" He said to me, "a fabulous customer experience doing ______." Fine, then our mission is "creating a fabulous customer experience doing ____." Period. Nothing about global, or methods, or sales, or technology... even though it was a technology company!

The experience with this one client then helped assist another company that had a similar challenge honing its mission statement.


"Mission Statement" is terribly misleading; it really should be a "Mission Soundbite." If it doesn't capture the exciting idea at the heart of why the company exists in a way that instantly inspires every employee, partner and customer, the mission statement has failed in its mission!

Do you have a Mission Statement? Even better, do you have a Mission Soundbite? Does it capture the essence of why your company exists and inspire you and all of your people? Ask us to help you capture your core idea and inspire every employee, partner and customer, and watch your growth take off.