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Setting the Foundation: Defining Your Mission

The mission is the "What" and "Why" of your organization. It's big. It's bold. You probably wont achieve it and if you think you will, you aren't thinking big enough.

Here is the definition of the mission:

The Mission Statement encompasses what the overall end goal of your organization is and why that goal is worth achieving,

You know, sometimes you can have a mission that is just a "What". That "What" can be pretty simple and stand alone, but if you can get the "Why" into the statement, especially if it isn't universally obvious why that "what" is important; thats the end goal.

How do you draft a Mission Statement? The Mission Statement is like looking at everything you do and writing down one sentence that encompasses it all. Imagine if you had a product roadmap written out 5 years into the future; your mission should encompass all of that. To start the process of drafting a statement, brainstorm a list of all of the things that the organization does or is planning to do (this can be done as a team or in small groups). Then group that brainstorm into a small set of themes.  From there, usually with a team but sometimes solo, draft a list of statements that is a fit to the themes. Keep doing this until you get a Mission Statement you are excited about.

Once you have the "What" down, read it back and see if the purpose of the "What" is obvious or if it's necessary to qualify the "What" (such as if there is a specific industry or population you will serve). If the purpose (or "Why" of the "What") is not obvious, do another brainstorm for the "Why".

If defining the "What" is hard, it may mean your organization lacks focus. If defining the "Why" is hard, then reflect on whether this business is worth doing and if you will really be able to stay motivated through the long road of company building.

It's not a scientific process. It's a creative process. Ultimately, you can go to print with a Mission Statement you feel good about, but when you strike gold, you know it (i.e. you don't need a perfect statement out of the gate BUT you will know when you have found a statement that will have longevity; it will feel right on many levels, like the way a clever joke can work on many levels).

How do you use the Mission Statement? A fantastic operating principle is pushing decision making low into an organization.  If you can develop managing practices and goal setting such that individual contributors can accurately make decisions without bubbling them to management, you are running a lean organization that will scale well. The Mission is one tool to help you achieve this optimum.

Imagine a situation where everyone in an organization is offline except one remaining employee. They have an important decision to make that could impact the organization. Assuming they don't have access to their manager that employee should be able to make the right call most of the time by reading the mission statement. Think about that. The Mission Statement is the fallback decision making guidance for your employees; if all else fails, there is the Mission Statement.

It's worth thinking about your Mission Statement in these terms and to treat the Mission Statement as the foremost prime directive of your organization. When an employee comes to you with a thorny problem; work through it with them (rather than just handing them guidance) and, when possible, evoke the Mission Statement.

Employees should be comfortable pushing back on decisions and goals that are incongruent with the mission statement. Management should sanity check every priority set by reviewing the Mission Statement.

Don't let your Mission Statement languish in obscurity. Its pithy nature and central importance to the organization means it should be talked about frequently and be widely known by all employees. That is the job of management.

If you are successful, your mission should help attract employees and keep current employees engaged. It should make decision making easier and lower management burdens. Set it early and iterate until you hit resonance. Once you have resonance, review your Mission Statement every time you set your annual priorities and ask yourself: Does my Mission Statement fit my priorities? If yes, keep your statement. If no, then either your priorities are wrong or your mission is wrong. Figure it out.

This is the first post in a series covering the foundational statements of an organization, including the Mission, Vision, Core Work and Values. These posts are living documents and are expected to be edited, refined and expounded over time. You can bookmark the Foundation blog post to view the entire series. This post covers the Mission Statement.

Trent Krupp

VP of Operations at Triplebyte. Founded an agency in my 20's, sold it to Hired and became employee 5. Recruited for Atomic (VC), Credit Sesame and MakerSights. Helped the founders of recruitment tech startups Shift.org, Terminal and Beacon in the early days.

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