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Tips to create a better mission statement

This is part of The Handover, an original Chase series that aims to help business owners think strategically about succession planning. It is presented by Chase for Business.

Choose what's right for your business

If you've nurtured a successful business, chances are that the basic operating model of your enterprise will carry on after you hand over the reins—and perhaps even become more successful and profitable. But how can you ensure that the personal and cultural values you instilled remain as well?

"In succession planning, it's common for there to be a 'push-pull' between the owners. The mission statement is one of those areas," says Bill Black, a certified business succession and exit planning specialist and host of Exit Coach Radio, based in Orange, California.

When a new owner takes over, things can get rocky. Departing management and owners want to retain relevance and tradition while the new order may want to stir things up and take the enterprise in a new direction. That's where a mission statement comes in. The principal role of a mission statement is to inform customers and stakeholders of the purpose—the direction—of the organization and illuminate how this goal is successfully achieved. A strong statement can anchor the company during a handover by keeping everyone moving in a single, unified direction.

Use the following tips to make sure your personal vision for your firm lives on long after you're no longer at the helm.

Align your core values

Whether you've already got a mission statement in hand, or have never spelled out your business purpose in writing, you'll want to begin by asking your team to brainstorm the answers to crucial questions: Who are we and whom do we serve? And why do we do it?

A relevant mission statement originates from the people within your company, not from a leadership book or an outside consultant, says Black. So it's critical to make sure all your employees have input—if your team is too large or widespread, consider using a survey.

Stay concise, and be specific

Even if you aren't known for your writing chops, you can still draft a powerful statement by sticking to these guidelines:

  • Aim for under 12 words. Yes, it's short. But the best mission statements are easily memorable, says Black, and that's unlikely to happen if you've got a lengthy, wordy paragraph. The critical test: can your employees easily recite it?
  • Be specific. A strong mission statement helps measure how well your company is fulfilling its purpose. To that end, it's important to avoid vagaries, and instead use words that are known in your specific industry and market.

Infuse passion into what you say

A good statement is a source of pride for employees. If your statement is overly clichéd or overused, it won't feel like a true extension of your values.

For example, Mitch Cox, the founder and CEO of Mitch Cox Companies, a 35-year-old commercial real estate firm in Tennessee, and his executive team, decided to adopt the same ethos from a similar company in a book: To be a real estate solutions company that outperforms the expectations of our stakeholders by consistently achieving our projected returns, reporting on a timely and accurate basis, and upholding transparency in all matters.

However, it eventually became clear: "The mission statement was missing chutzpah—memorable, passionate language that people can get behind daily," Cox wrote, in an essay to his team. After extensive discussions, Coxes' leadership team replaced their statement with the following, which truly explains the firms' purpose: To create opportunities for others to succeed.

If you're still stuck for ideas, consider turning your statement into an actionable question, and see if it resonates. Cox, for example, asks the question, "Does this decision create an opportunity for someone (business partner, customer, or team member) to succeed?"

Taking the time to re-do your mission statement might seem less important than other, more tangible aspects of planning. But done right, it can re-invigorate your team with a new energy, says Black: "Starting with a new, concise, and memorable mission statement is a clear sign of a changing, growing company."

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