In an era of unprecedented challenges, with no precedent upon which you can rely, leadership and decision making become exponentially more difficult. This is why successful, sustainable, growth-oriented companies create strong mission, vision and values (MVV) statements. Timeless, forward thinking MVV statements serve as a compass, a North Star, and not just for leadership, but, if done right, for your entire organization.
Take a few minutes and read through your current MVV statements. How hard are they to find? Are they publicly posted or hidden in some corporate document? Can you, your leadership team, and your entire staff easily find them and/or recite them? If you don’t have any, it’s a great time to create them.
The following is a guide based on my experience creating MVV statements as well as an analysis of over 25 top companies. I hope it will help you create future proof MVV statements that reflect your culture and brand, yet allow for the flexibility to adapt to growth and unforeseen challenges.
Mission, Vision and Value Statements Audit
If you have existing MVV statements, start with these 7 questions:
- How many of your employees know what they are?
- Are they publicly posted or buried in an internal document?
- Do they reflect the business as it is today?
- Do they reflect the business as you want it to be in the future?
- Do they resonate with your most important stakeholders?
- Would your customers, employees, vendors, and local communities say they were consistent with their experiences with your organization?
- Are they an accurate reflection of your company’s culture?
Generally, a mission statement is what you do for your clients; a vision statement is your lofty goal for the organization; and values are the guiding principles by which you run the organization. Most good MVV statements convey the following information:
- Your one big compelling idea
- Your audacious stretch goal
- Your central organizational principle(s)
- Your ability to stay relevant
- Your supporting values
There is no right or wrong formula when it comes to MVV statements, nor one formula that works for everyone. Many are broad statements to allow for adaptability and growth. Others are inspirational. I recently collected MVV statements of 26 well-known and often admired companies. Most did a great job at conveying the five points above, although in very different formats and stylings. While recognizing that these are global companies with brand recognition, they are still great examples (in most cases) of how to draft “future proof” MVV statements.
Mission statements are based in the present, and should represent your company or organization’s best version of itself. It should not be tied to a single product or service as companies and organizations must constantly evolve as they grow and/or adjust to the economic challenges that come their way.
My review found Mission Statements fell into 3 basic categories: Literal, Customer Service, and Beyond the Business.
“Literal” — These tell us exactly what the company does, and only 2 of the 26 companies were “literal.” Google is a good example as their mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” While it’s literal, it’s aspirational and not limiting them to a single function or service. FedEx, in contrast, takes literal to a whole new level with their mission statement: “to produce superior financial returns for its shareowners by providing high value-added logistics, transportation, and related business services through focused operating companies.” The FedEx mission is probably accurate, but a bit jarring when compared to the other 25 that focused more outwardly on customers and the world in general. Note that it appears on the Investor section of the FedEx website.
Having a literal mission statement is perfectly fine as in Google’s case. It’s audacious and therefore inspiring. Literal missions statements can keep the team focused on what your core business is, but it has more punch if it’s inspirational and/or motivational to others.
“Customer Service” — Mission statements that focus on customers are strong because no business can survive without customers. It’s no surprise that of the 9 companies on my list with customer service focused missions, 7 of them fall directly in the retail products category. The other 2 were Southwest Airlines and Netflix, which are retail services. Every company in this category covered one or all of the following: quality of product and services, cost efficiency, and/or convenience.
Amazon’s mission is a good example: “Our mission is to continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything, and empower businesses and content creators to maximise their success.” SouthWest Airlines, also does this combination well: “to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” As does CVS Health “helping people on their path to better health.”
“Beyond the Business” — Of the 26 companies, 15 of them had mission statements that are bigger than their business model. Some want to save the world, others want to empower individuals to be their best selves and do amazing things. Still others were broad to allow for expansion into new areas. In fact, many did not even mention what they actually do or the industry of which they are part. This is a strategy that works well for global companies with mass brand recognition, but might prove less effective for a more local business or startup.
Some fully aspirational examples included Patagonia’s “we’re in business to save our home planet.” Nike aims to “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” (*Athlete = anyone with a body). Microsoft wants “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more;” and Etsy strives “to keep commerce human.”
Usually we would expect that going beyond the business model would be saved for Vision statements and for this reason, many have collapsed the two together (IKEA — see also below). If you are not yet a global leader in your industry, separating the two, with the mission statement defining your role in your industry today, might be a better, more tangible, course of action.
While some collapsed their vision statements into their mission statements (Salesforce), they all fell into three categories: global domination; global empowerment; and a doubling down on customer service
- Southwest Airlines: “to become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”
- Tesla: “Electric cars, batteries, and renewable energy generation and storage already exist independently, but when combined, they become even more powerful — that’s the future we want.”
- Amazon: “We aim to be Earth’s most customer-centric company”
- Microsoft: “to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world.”
- CVS health: “Creating unmatched human connections to transform the health care experience”
- Uber: “we ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.”
- Salesforce: “we’re committed to a sustainable future for all.”
- IKEA: Our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people — for customers, but also for our co-workers and the people who work at our suppliers.
- Target: “To help all families discover the joy of everyday life.”
- Nordstrom: “We believe fashion is a business of optimism, and in that spirit we continue to grow and evolve. Free shipping and free returns, mobile shopping and exciting new retail partnerships offer us continued opportunities to serve more customers in more ways with a fresh, relevant shopping experience and inspiring style. Fashion changes. Shopping changes. Our commitment to happy customers doesn’t.”
- Wegmans: “helping you live a healthier, better life through food.”
My favorite of all 26 was one that hit all 3 categories:
- The 3M vision statement is: “3M Technology Advancing Every Company. 3M Products Enhancing Every Home. 3M Innovation Improving Every Life.”
It is not only simple, it is customer focused; speaks to global deployment (as opposed to domination); and it is about empowering others.
These often read as laundry lists of “values” that companies hope to embody, but often fall short. To avoid this, companies should keep it simple and nail down some core values that will serve as a filter for all decision-making, management protocols, and stakeholder interactions at every level of the company.
Values statements are extremely important in times of great uncertainty. I started this article noting that today we don’t have precedent to fall back on. Precedent begets wisdom because wisdom comes from experience and when you don’t have experience to fall back on, you can only look to your values as a compass.
Rule 1: Don’t just list words that sound good.
Many of the companies just listed words like “innovate” “judgment” “environment.” While those are all great broad concepts, they need more context so that employees, as well as leadership, can apply them to the work they do everyday. The following are three values statements that can be used as filters for big decisions like expansion into a new product or service line and even small decisions like which vendors do you use at your headquarters.
- Etsy: “We commit to our craft. We minimize waste. We embrace differences. We dig deeper. We lead with optimism.”
- Patagonia: “building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to protect nature, and not bound by convention.”
- Starbucks: With our partners, our coffee and our customers at our core, we live these values: Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome. Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect. Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.
Rule 2: Include all stakeholders
In what is probably a more recent turn of events, 11 of the 26 companies included a reference to diversity & inclusion. Some more explicitly than others. Perhaps not surprisingly in today’s economy, other than a D&I reference, only 3 companies mentioned or included their employees.
- Starbucks references partners as part of their core in the excerpt above.
- Costco: “obey the law, take care of our members, take care of our employees and respect our vendors.”
- IKEA: “Togetherness is at the heart of the IKEA culture. We are strongest when we trust each other, pull in the same direction and have fun together.”
Another overlooked stakeholder are communities. Because these are global, multinational corporations, it is likely that they don’t feel tied to the communities in which they are located. Recent behavior by Amazon and others, demonstrate their lack of any sort of commitment to local communities and this non-commitment is reflected in their values statements. However, if you are a locally-based business, you might consider including your local community in your values like these 2 companies did:
- Wegmans includes “We make a difference in every community we serve.”
- Lyft (from their 2019 IPO letter): “The why in what Lyft is doing is most important to us, as well as the cities and communities we serve, and it will always be our company’s North Star.”
Rule 3: Include your unique differentiator
Patagonia does this well as excerpted above, and also Google where they have pledged to “do no evil.” Apple includes a focus on privacy which they have stood by and apart from others when challenged, and Microsoft includes corporate social responsibility.
Every MVV statement is unique and there is no one set formula, but if you follow the examples and guidelines above, you will be able to craft your compass for the future. Moreover, if your company’s MVV statements are authentic, genuine, reflective of your company’s culture, and inclusive of all stakeholders then you can rely on them to make the decisions that are right for your company.
Companies included in the analysis: 3M, Amazon, Apple, Costco, CVS Health, Disney, Etsy, Facebook, FedEx, Google, IKEA, JetBlue, Lyft, Microsoft, Netflix, Nike, Nordstrom, Patagonia, Salesforce, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Target, Tesla, Uber, Walmart, Wegmans.
Diane Danielson works as a strategic operations and marketing advisor with clients seeking to future proof their business strategy. Click here for more details.