3 Steps to a Successful Mission by Francis Miller

Mission statements have had a bad press recently because many are so general as to be almost meaningless. However missions do have an important job to do.

When they lack clarity, it makes it more difficult to communicate the business's identity clearly to customers and employees, and there isn't a clear foundation on which to make decisions.

Developing your mission needn't be complicated. For me, a mission has three purposes, which are to describe what the business does, why it exists and, optionally, how it will operate. Therefore if you follow this three-step process, you will soon have a usable mission.

Step 1 - Describe the Activities of the Business

Describing the activities of your business in one or a few sentences may seem superfluous but it can be very useful to summarise concisely what the business does, not least for when you are communicating with your customers.

Some businesses will also want to describe what activities they are not involved in to make the focus clearer.

It can be also useful to ask "what business are we in?". For example, McDonalds are not just in the fast-food business but are also in the entertainment business while an engineering company may be as much in the business of helping to reduce its customer's costs as it is of manufacturing products.

Being clear about what business you are in will help you to identify key issues later on in your business plan.

Step 2 - Describe Why the Business Exists

Businesses exist to serve at least 2 stakeholder groups, the customers and the owners.

Without customers who buy your products or services, there will be no business so one of the key purposes of any business must be to serve the customers well.

Therefore being clear about who your customers are and what benefits they are receiving from your products or services and/or what problems you are solving for them is an important component of your mission.

Businesses exist also to meet the goals of the owners. Because these goals are critical in determining how the business operates, it is very important to clarify them.

For example, one owner-manager may want to develop their business so that it can be sold off for a certain price in 5 years time while another owner-manager may want a certain level of income each year at the same time as only working 4 days a week.

Similarly, in bigger businesses where ownership and management is split, shareholders can have different objectives, ranging from increasing dividend income through to developing the business so that it can be sold in the future. Obviously each of these goals will have different implications for the business, its activities and how it is run.

These goals are generally financial ones but they can be non-financial ones as well.

It is also important here to check that the benefits desired by the owners are congruent with the vision. For example, if one of your key benefits is to have a suitable work/life balance, there's no point having a vision that will require you to work 15 hours a day.

Many businesses include the needs of other stakeholder groups in their mission, eg. having a contented workforce or contributing to the local community. My preference is to include these as values and only to include in the mission purposes which are central to the existence of the business.

There are some businesses who do have other objectives that are key to their purpose. For example, benefitting the environment is central to the Body Shop's existence. In these cases, it is appropriate to include them in the mission.

Step 3 - Describe How the Business will Operate

This step is optional. Including in the mission specific strategies or the use of specific technologies which are central to a business's activities means that it becomes easier to focus on them and to flag them up to staff.

This might include, for example, having a strategy to grow the business by acquisition or focusing on the internet as the main sales channel.

Summary of Mission Instructions

Step 1 - describe the activities of your business in one or a few sentences as well as "what business you are in".

Step 2 - describe why the business exists:

a) describe who your customers are and the key benefits that you provide to them and/or what problems you are solving for them. If there is more than one customer segment, you can answer this for each of the segments.

b) describe what benefits the owners want to get from the business.

c) describe any other key stakeholders that are central to why the business exists and what benefits the business wants to provide for them.

Step 3 (optional) - describe any strategies or the use of any technologies that are central to the business.


The length of your mission is up to you as it depends on how much you have to say and on the complexity of your business. It could just be a paragraph or it could be a half a page or longer. However you should remember that the longer it is, the more difficult it becomes to keep the mission in your mind and to communicate it to others.

Should You Make your Mission Public?

In most cases, it will be appropriate to show your managers and staff your vision, mission and values. However owner-managers particularly may want to keep the description of their motivation and the benefits they are aiming for private.

You will also have to decide whether it is suitable or even necessary to show customers all of your vision, mission or values or whether it would be more appropriate to show them an edited version.


Developing a mission is just a small part of your internal business plan. For a comprehensive guide to writing your plan, purchase the Internal Business Plan Manual



© Francis Miller 2001-2008