“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.” – Anatole France
There is an old story about a lighthouse keeper who worked on a rocky stretch of coastline. Once a month he would receive a new supply of oil to keep the light burning so that ships could safely sail near the rocky coast. One night, a woman from a nearby village came and begged him for some oil to keep her family warm. Days later, a father asked for some oil to use in his lamp. At the end of the week another man needed oil to lubricate a wagon wheel. Since all the requests seemed legitimate, the lighthouse keeper, wanting to please everyone, granted their requests.
Toward the end of the month the lighthouse keeper noticed his supply of oil was dangerously low. Before he could replenish his supply, however, that night his lighthouse went dark. As a result, several ships were wrecked and countless lives were lost. When the authorities investigated, the keeper was very apologetic. He told them he was just trying to be helpful with the oil. Their reply to his undisciplined excuses was simple and to the point: “You were given oil for one purpose, and one purpose only – to keep the guiding light burning!”
A mission statement should act as a lighthouse. It is the light that keeps a company safely on course. If a company begins to lose track of its direction, it can look upon its mission statement and be reminded of its overall purpose. A mission statement is the oil that sustains the light of a company’s identity.
According to Stephen Covey, if business leaders fail to set their goals upon their mission statement, “they may be climbing the ladder of success only to realize that, when they get to the top, they are on the wrong building.” In order to avoid such a horrible consequence, leaders should mind the following three steps when developing their mission statement:
- A mission statement should be short. It should be crafted to include only a few brief sentences that establish the essential theme of an enterprise based on its specific strengths and opportunities. It should describe a company’s values and the activities that a business is willing to support and advance on a daily basis.
- A mission statement should be very visible and communicated on a regular basis. Staff members and employees must thoroughly understand the role they play in making the mission statement a reality. In order to effectively communicate a mission statement it should appear on employee materials, incorporated into orientation and training, and used as an overall cultural headstone.
- Finally, in order for a mission statement to be effective, it should be proactively integrated into the systems and processes that constitute a company’s culture. If properly integrated, the mission statement provides the overarching vision against which quarterly, monthly, and even weekly goals are developed and pursued.
A mission statement reminds leaders, their employees and customers what their enterprise is all about and where it is headed. In general, a mission statement should serve as a lighthouse – a guide that protects business leaders from crashing onto the sharp shoals of undisciplined managerial navigation.