Every company needs a mission. More importantly, that mission should reflect a company’s core principles and values. Things can go awry, however, when organizations fall into the trap of a product-focused mission statement.
Apple has struggled with its identity since the death of Steve Jobs in 2011. The company once known for its laser focus on improving the world through technology has shifted to a product-focused mission that reads more like a laundry list of devices and services.
Apple continues to generate staggering revenue — $78.4 billion in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017 — but audiences have dinged the tech titan for its decisions to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone, include a touch-sensitive control strip in the latest MacBook Pro and kill the company’s Wi-Fi router division. Google CEO Larry Page has said Jobs claimed the search engine juggernaut was “doing too much stuff.” Ironically, Apple has started to overextend itself without Jobs at the helm.
My good friend Chris Horst co-wrote “Mission Drift,” a book that explores why so many nonprofits lose their way. Chris defines “mission drift” as organizational leaders forgetting why their company exists — its current reality doesn’t align with its founding principles. After reading the book, I’ve realized how prevalent this mistake is in the startup world.
Think of the mission statement as the heartbeat of your company: A strong direction can keep things pumping for a long time, while a weak or product-focused mission could be your ticket to an early grave.
The seen and unseen costs of lost focus
Most companies start off with a great goal. Founders want to solve a significant problem or change the world in some way, often orienting their mission around products or services. For example, let’s look at Myspace’s original mission statement:
“Myspace Inc. is a leading social entertainment destination powered by the passions of fans. Aimed at a Gen Y audience, Myspace drives social interaction by providing a highly personalized experience around entertainment and connecting people to the music, celebrities, TV, movies and games that they love.”
This statement is almost solely focused on products rather than illustrating why Myspace is in business. It also potentially limits the company’s growth options by labeling it as a social entertainment destination. In stark contrast, Twitter’s mission statement is focused on the heart of why the company exists:
“To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.”
Twitter began with a business model focused on 140-character messages, but the statement gives the company a true human-oriented mission beyond its products. The success of the two companies speaks volumes: Twitter has about 319 million monthly active users compared to Myspace’s 50.6 million users.
When your mission is muddy, your team has no frame of reference to guide decisions. People will be left to determine the course of action they feel is best, with teams moving in different — sometimes conflicting — directions. Company meetings can rapidly devolve into chaos.
The lack of a clear mission can also cause customer confusion. People will likely have trouble understanding your business. Companies without a clear focus on their mission often appear to be pursuing one thing today and something else entirely tomorrow.
A strong focus on your core mission can help foster high values and a great culture in any organization. That said, it can be a challenge to tell whether your mission matches your company and goals. Here are a few ways to tell whether your statement is up to snuff:
1. Your team is working in tandem.
When you have a solid vision and communicate it to your team, you’ll notice everyone pulling in the same direction. Online leviathan Amazon is a great example of this concept in action. Amazon’s mission is to be the world’s most customer-centric company and “build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Amazon recently fell short of lofty goals set by Wall Street, but the retailer reported $136 billion in sales last year. Clearly, the company is doing something right. There are two ideas at the heart of Amazon’s business: putting customers first and perpetually inventing. These tenets have allowed Amazon to remain at the forefront of emerging industries because the entire organization is focused on its mission.
2. It’s easy to make decisions.
Whether you’re choosing a vendor or deciding how to incorporate new technology, it’s much easier to pick a path when your team asks, “What will help us live our mission?” Nike, for instance, makes moves that fulfill its mission — bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Nike strives to pursue sustainable innovation, creating a growth strategy that prioritizes a reduced environmental footprint. The company is able to make business decisions that align with its environmental and social targets, according to Nike’s recent sustainable business report. Once you notice decisions naturally taking care of themselves, it’s a good sign your mission statement is on point.
3. Success takes on a new meaning.
When money is no longer the main metric of achievement, progress toward realizing your mission becomes the key driver of your organization. If your company spends more time brainstorming strategies to achieve lofty goals than scrambling to make ends meet, your mission is likely in solid shape.
Twitter is still struggling to turn a profit, but it can also measure success by adherence to its aforementioned goal of breaking down communication barriers around the world. Based on that measure, Twitter is making a significant impact by serving as a mouthpiece for celebrities, world leaders and businesses.
4. Customers will love you.
A clear mission will help customers understand what you are and what you aren’t. It can also build trust that your company will always prioritize its customers’ best interests. If customers seem confused about why you exist and how your company fits into their lives, it might be time to rethink your mission statement.
Warehouse chain Costco has a loyal customer base because the company’s mission statement — to continually provide members with high-quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices — emphasizes excellent customer service and unmatched discounts. The proof is in the 88 percent global renewal rate of memberships and incredibly low employee turnover. When your customers truly know you’re focused on them, they’ll stay with you.
Related: 25 Tips for Earning Customer Loyalty
Staying true to your company’s mission statement gives your team a clear direction, simplifies decisions, provides new avenues for success, clarifies your purpose to customers and drives loyalty.
It’s never the wrong time to step back and assess your company’s mission. My best advice is to make sure it establishes a larger goal beyond profit and product. From there, evaluate a few of your most recent decisions against your strategy. If it seems like your company has drifted from its original intent, let your mission statement guide you back home.