How To Bring The Mission Statement To Life

C.W. ParkDecember 11, 20177 min

Whereas it’s helpful for a company to have a mission statement, employees must also accept and embody it to make it meaningful. Unfortunately, some internal branding experts suggest that over 50 percent of employees don’t believe in their company’s mission statement, or don’t think they have the knowledge, skills, and training to deliver on it. Thus, beyond stating a mission statement, internal branding needs to focus on making that mission come to life for employees. The first step in building admiration from the inside is to ensure that employees trust, love, and respect the brand mission itself. To do so, employees should find their company’s mission statement or its embodiment enabling, enticing, and enriching.

Several important enabling features foster employees’ trust of the mission.

1. Involvement In The Mission’s Development
Employees are more likely to support and trust a mission that they have had a voice in developing. A mission statement that’s been thrust upon them is not likely to create the same degree of brand admiration. Involving employees in the mission statement’s development provides a strong sense of ownership. To whatever extent possible, brand holders should proactively invite employees to be part of the mission’s formulation process. In this way, brands actively manage the mission-statement experience. By involving employees in developing and communicating the company’s mission, employees are better enabled to craft it, endorse it, act on it, and share it wholeheartedly with (other internal and) external customers.

2. Stating The Mission In A Memorable Way
The mission statement is particularly memorable, and it resonates well with employees when it can be restated in a simple way. For example, the Ritz-Carlton’s credo about being the gold standard of service is communicated in its “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” statement. Another example is Goldman Sachs, whose list of business principles starts with “Our clients’ interests always come first.” Or consider McKinsey’s to-the-point statement: “ We believe we will be successful if our clients are successful.” A shortened version of the mission keeps it clear and top of mind.

3. Making the Mission Concrete
Employees are enabled to act on the mission when they are given specific guideposts that make it concrete. This is particularly important for new hires, for whom the mission statement might be somewhat abstract and unfamiliar. To illustrate, consider that the Ritz-Carlton’s tenet (“We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”) translates into three concrete behaviors that employees can enact in a mission-consistent way: (1) provide a warm and sincere greeting that uses the guest’s name, (2) anticipate and fulfill the guest’s needs, and (3) wish the guest a warm goodbye, again using the guest’s name. These concrete “ steps of service” clarify mission-consistent actions, and they empower employees to create their own unique, memorable guest experiences.

4. Providing Consistency
Enabling employees to understand and live the mission is not a one-time deal. Employees should see the mission as part of their onboarding process, and the mission should be continually referenced and reinforced throughout employees’ tenure. Unfortunately, employees aren’t always made aware of the mission and why it’s important to their jobs. Sometimes the company’s actions are inconsistent, making employees question the company’s commitment to its mission. Lack of consistency and frequent changes in policies and procedures used to implement it, create confusion and make employees feel less secure in enacting the mission. Even worse, lack of consistency reduces employees’ commitment to the brand and ultimately negatively affects financial performance. When missions do change, employees should be closely involved in the change process. Through employee involvement, problems with the current mission and how the organization embodies it can be identified, new ideas can be generated, and ownership in the new message can be established.

Enticing Features That Foster Love
Most people genuinely want to love their work and the brand they work for. Hence, it’s important that companies make the brand mission enticing in their internal marketing efforts. Both sense-pleasing and/or heartwarming actions can enhance employees’ love for the brand’s mission.

Enticing through Sensory Appeals
The visual, auditory, and/or tactile appeal associated with a brand’s mission statement matters in influencing how quickly and readily employees understand and accept the mission, and how interesting it appears to them. Consider Porsche Consulting’s operational excellence mission: “For something to run smoothly, obstacles must be ironed out. We make you become the Porsche of your industry.”

Porsche Consulting visually and tangibly expresses its mission to employees by having Porsche consultants wear technician’s clothes. This is highly unusual for consultants, who typically wear expensive, polished designer suits. But the technician’s clothes remind Porsche employees that consultants are humble master crafts persons who must roll up their sleeves in the service of the brand. They must get on with a job in a factory or wherever need be. The mission thus is communicated in ways beyond a mere statement; it literally is worn on employees’ bodies. As such, the mission is tangible. Employees not only see the mission, they feel it too.

Enticing through Heartwarming Appeals
A mission statement may also become enticing to employees through ‘ heartwarming appeals that make the mission come to life. Notre Dame’s football team has placed a sign that reads “Play Like a Champion Today” in a stairwell between the team locker room and the tunnel to Notre Dame Stadium. This inspiring message (which is enriching to players) is made concrete through an emotional ritual where the players and staff touch the sign before running onto the field, in the hopes that they can “play like a champion today.” The ritual is emotionally evocative. By physically touching the sign players make this sign’s meaning personal and intimate.

One way to make the mission interesting and heartwarming to employees is through storytelling. Storytelling inspires brand beliefs and connections with the mission. Employees can tell their own mission-congruent stories and personal experiences. Beyond storytelling, company missions can be communicated through personal contact (as opposed to via memos, e-mails, or documents) and communicated in a nonwork-related setting or at company retreats (e.g., a fireside chat in a forest or by the ocean on a Hawaiian beach).

Brand biographies, which are stories of how the brand went from its humble origins to its current state of success, are extremely appealing to employees and customers alike. This is particularly true when the brand biography depicts that brand as an underdog who has overcome serious obstacles in its efforts to succeed.

The following three points are worth mentioning about sharing a brand’s mission through storytelling. First, storytelling provides emotional touchstones for employees. Storytelling can motivate employees to feel psychologically closer to the brand and its mission. Sharing mission-consistent stories immerses employees in the mission. They also have a greater sense of ownership over the brand story because they themselves are spreading the word and acting as brand missionaries. Second, stories can make the brand’s beliefs and principles more visible and tangible. When shared, stories emotionally engage employees in ways that go beyond mere knowledge of and memory for the mission statement. Third, storytelling cuts across cultures. It’s part of our DNA as humans. We bond with others through the stories we tell. When employees share brand stories they feel more emotionally connected to the brand and to each other.

Enriching Features That Foster Respect
A mission statement that’s enabling and enticing to employees is a good start. But these features won’t guarantee that employees feel inspired by it. A mission statement that is merely familiar may not come to mind automatically or create a sense of emotional resonance. Indeed, as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” To enhance employees’ respect for the mission, it must inspire them and reflect their core beliefs and principles. A company can make the mission statement inspiring by proving a strong connection between a brand’s mission and beliefs and the principles of employees.

Note Starbucks mission and the four beliefs/principles that it subsumes. A glance at their mission shows how beliefs endorsed by and subsumed within the mission can inspire employees.

Starbucks mission is “To inspire and nurture (the what) the human spirit (the for whom)— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time (the how). The four beliefs subsumed in its mission are (1) “Delivering our very best in all we do; holding ourselves accountable for results,” (2) “Creating a playful organizational culture; being present; connecting with transparency, dignity, and respect. (3) “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging,” and (4) “Acting with courage, challenging the status quo, and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.”

These are inspiring beliefs/principles. Employees can see their own personal beliefs in the brand ethos. These statements eloquently capture how employees should conduct themselves in the organization, what the organization and employees themselves want to be, and what type of a work environment they want to create together, as an organization. Combined, these statements enrich and inspire employees, drawing them closer to the brand and to each other. Indeed, a recent study shows that businesses that have inspiring beliefs that are centered on improving people’s lives grew three times faster than their competitors did.

A mission statement should be developed and embodied through enabling, enticing, and enriching features and must be tightly aligned with a company’s own conduct. Practices that are inconsistent with the mission statement undermine employees’ trust for, love of, and respect for the company and the mission that guides it.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: C. Whan Park, Deborah MacInnis and Andreas Eisingerich, excerpted from their book, Brand Admiration with permission from Wiley Publishing.

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our purpose, mission, vision and values and brand culture workshops.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Growth and Brand Education

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers

C.W. Park

One comment

  • Kevin Walker

    December 18, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Great article. I’d only add that the mission of a business is to fulfill its purpose. So a purpose statement must come before a mission statement. And, just as the purpose of a hammer is defined by its user (and not by the hammer), the purpose of a business is defined by its market.

Comments are closed.

Connect With Us