Find Your WHY: How to Write a Mission Statement that Reflects Your Values

You’re ambitious. You’re driven. You’re independent, focused, and you appreciate a challenge. After all, you’re running your own business. So, why worry about value definitions and writing a mission statement? Can’t you simply do what you need to do?

Well, yes and no. To build a successful business (or continue to lead a company forward), you need to know who you are. A vague notion of you-ness isn’t good enough either. This self-exploration goes for both your company’s identity and you, as a business leader.

First Define Your REAL Values

spend time thinking about the values that make you a good leaderNow there’s a tendency to immediately pull in your team, especially if you have a transparent “all hands on deck” company culture. While this is often a good move, it’s essential to explore these questions on your own, as well.

Before you get your employees involved, spend time thinking about who YOU are as a leader. Not who you think you are or who you want others to perceive you as, but who you really are! In my experience separating who you are from how you want others to perceive you is one of the hardest steps. That doesn’t mean giving up on change, it just means accept who you are now. It’s time to sit down and ask yourself important questions like (you guessed it) Who Am I? – and – What are my core values? – and, most importantly – Is the way I run my business consistent with my core values?

From there, you’ll take yet another step back from your business and find your WHY. WHY do you do it? Why do you strive toward success?

Your gut reaction answer may be something like, “Because I need to feed my family,” or “Because I want my community to view me as an influential person.” But what’s your actual WHY? Why do you do it at all? Why does your team do it? Why did you start a particular type of business? What is compelling about your industry? What WHY drives your team to perform their best work?

The answers to these questions aren’t simple, but once you’ve articulated and defined them, writing a mission statement (the summation of your WHY) will become much easier. So, roll up your sleeves. It’s time to start talking values.

Next, List Ten Characteristics That Define You

Start each characteristic with “I value…” rather than “I am…” Yes, this challenge is surprisingly a lot tougher than it first sounds, but it’s essential. Writing a list will force you to examine the consistency of your values.

The values you think you have (or hope you have) need to align with your actual values. For example, if I recognize integrity as one of my core personal values, yet I don’t correct the cashier for giving me too much change, then I am in denial, and I don’t act on the values I tout. Or let’s say you follow an open-door policy, allowing your team members to come into your office and address their concerns. Yet every time an employee has an idea, you shut it down. Eventually, people stop coming to your office, yet you pretend you have no idea why. The answer is, you aren’t as “open” as you may perceive yourself. Be honest with yourself on these inconsistencies and then decide if they really represent your values or are they the values you want to be perceived as having.  You can always strive to make that perception your reality.

So, think about your real values and how they align with the way you run your business. Circle the values you’re still working on. For each circled value, list three ways you will better adhere to it in the future. You won’t be a master at many of the values, and that’s okay! The best leaders are those who recognize they’re a work in progress.

Once you’ve written down your list, evaluate your values. Will your team members find it relatable? For example, “I value my yacht.” Not exactly a relatable statement to inspire your team to value your leadership! Is that really the driver or are you interested in the security money provides to allow you time for leisure.  Might it really be  “I value the drive to earn money to support my leisure activities,” and that is also more relatable.

When it comes to small business, if you’re running the show in many respects, you ARE the company, and your employees see you that way, too. How do you expect your employees to align with the company values if your values aren’t aligned?

After You’ve Defined Your Values, Take it to Your Team

Once you've defined your company values, it's time to solicit feedback from your team members.Now you’ve got your values defined, and it’s time to solicit feedback from your team members. Only when you’re clear on your values can you ask the same questions about your company values. Now’s the time to get your employees involved.

One way to do this is to make a game of defining your company values. You could jot down ideas on post-its and cover a whiteboard. You could drop them in a hat. You could throw a ball around a circle (to encourage participation by everyone). Each time a person catches the ball, they share a word that represents a company value. Make it fun and offer everyone a chance to participate.

You’ll likely come up with a huge list to start. Words like truth, integrity, joy, learning, respect, diversity of people and ideas, professional, competitive, and catalyze. Keep brainstorming until you’ve got an extensive list down.

Once you’ve tapped out everyone’s ideas, it’s time to evaluate the list and eliminate redundant terms. Narrow down the list to the values you genuinely feel are driving your business. You may narrow it down to 15-20 words or so.

From there, group the words into categories like:

Integrity, Excellence, Excitement – or – Relationships, Service, and Achievement.

You’ll likely find many of the ideas will easily fall into one of the categories. This is a great indication you’ve started to nail down those values.  Once you feel you’ve pinned down 3-4 values, truly drive your organization, craft the words into a value statement. For example:

“We strive to be an industry leader, with exceptional customer service, and a joyful work environment. We will do this by:

  • Employing integrity and knowledge in our product development
  • Listening to the concerns of customers
  • Respecting and supporting our team members
  • Engaging in professional development and growth opportunities
  • Interfacing with clients across all channels
  • Defining our processes and cross-training for every role.”

Obviously, this is only a sample. Your business may write a very different value statement. What’s important is exploring and discovering who your company is. You will improve your business operations by adhering to your values. As Ayn Rand said, “Happiness is the state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.”

When we’re aligned with our values, we’re working toward precisely what is important to us. We’re discovering our bigger reasons why, which brings us to the next question.

Explore and Define: What is a WHY?

Your WHY must be a statement everyone in your company relates to and a statement that sets your company’s direction.At risk of sounding like the Cheshire Cat, I’ll first let you in on what I mean by what is a why? After you discover who you really are (your REAL values), it’s time to ask yourself WHY you do it at all.

Your WHY must be a statement everyone in your company relates to and a statement that sets your company’s direction. So, your WHY statement can’t be selfish or self-focused, as it will alienate your team.

Again, “I want to own the fanciest yacht in Yachting Magazine,” is a nice personal goal. Still, it’s not a WHY statement that will resonate with your employees, inspiring them to achieve company goals—and it definitely won’t motivate your team to go above and beyond for the company.

Your WHY may be…

  • Altruistic

“We want to sell enough shoes so that we can donate a pair for every person in a third world country.”

  • Self-directed (but not selfish)

“I want to grow the company, so I exceed the philanthropy of Bill and Melinda Gates.”

  • Customer-directed

“Our product quality and availability will make life easier for every customer.”

  • General

“We want to be the best automotive service provider in the state.”

  • Very specific

“We want to have $10 million in total country-wide badminton net sales in 2020.”

Think about your WHY. Now write it down. Like writing down your values, it’s important to put these exercises on paper, as a way of establishing and solidifying your personal and business commitments and goals. This process requires deep thought and concentration, I would suggest a short 2 – 3 day retreat where you can avoid interruption, yet be relaxed enough to really let your deep thoughts percolate –my favorite – sitting in my cabin looking out onto the lake. I’ve also rented a hotel room for a couple of days and “locked” myself in the office and taken to a bench in a park. Now evaluate your WHY statement. Does your WHY add cohesiveness to your team’s values statement and provide a shared purpose everyone can aspire to?

(Stumped? Try this Corporate Mission Statement Generator! KIDDING!)

Why ask WHY? Your WHY statement will help you with writing a mission statement. When you’ve combined it with the company values, all that’s left is to examine and smooth it out. Does your WHY not only inspire your team, but does it also inspire others to want to work with you, and to trust your company?

Finally, Start Writing a Mission Statement

Writing your mission statement is a process. Typically, you develop this statement after determining your values, your WHY statement, and considering your company from all angles. You may want to run a SWOT analysis. Some companies find an evaluation of customer needs through surveys and testimonials to be helpful. How are you going to ultimately help your stakeholders (customers, employees, investors, YOU) succeed?

Once you’ve collected these pieces, start writing your mission statement out. Your mission statement should be concise. It should be well-written and inspirational. Avoid the tendency to wax on or over-explain. Your statement should be memorable, so it resonates with your staff. If you’ve written down your values and your why statement, your mission statement should become clear.

Once your mission statement is down on paper, you need to commit to running your business to the standard.  Can you do it successfully and realistically? (If the answer is no, you may need to adjust.)

“When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it.” -W. Clement Stone

As the company leader, it’s your responsibility to back your motivating purpose. Keep your mission statement visible to your team and repeat, repeat, repeat. Revisit your mission in team meetings regularly. Discuss your mission before you set your goals for the upcoming quarter.

If you haven’t started already, I urge you to start writing a mission statement today! How will you run your company, driven by your mission statement? Do you know your “why”?

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