Consider the "problem of the commons." With no sense of obligation to a larger entity, be it a company, or a state, or a nation, why shouldn't every person be in it for themselves? If you want your company to succeed, employees must have a purpose they are working for. That will lead us to mission statements. But first, let's talk about purpose. Let's say you are a forestry worker and the first day on the job, your boss tells you to go out and cut down 10 trees. You do that, and the boss is so pleased that the next day he asks you to cut down 12 trees. You take your handy little ax, stroll out to the forest and chop down 12 trees. Well this continues, and at the end of the month, the boss has you chopping down 20 trees a day. But you are dissatisfied, as the boss can keep raising the number of trees you chop down, until one day you lay down exhausted and just can't chop down any more trees. Heck, then he will replace you and get someone younger and stronger to chop down trees. The boss has given you no sense of a purpose for chopping down trees. He didn't inspire you by saying how the trees you chopped down helped make homes for people or even a simple wooden deck where friends and family could gather. That would at least have given you a sense of purpose. A reason to keep cutting down trees. And while the boss had you chop down trees, you were feeling used. When you were worn out, why wouldn't he cast you aside? He didn't show his loyalty by offering vacations, benefits, bonuses. And the boss had violated a basic tenet of bossdom. Whenever two or more employees are gathered, tell them, and keep telling them, the purpose of their work. Stress the higher goal you, as a team, are all working for. This all can be quickly encapsulated by the classic story of the bricklayers:
A gentleman saw three men laying bricks. He approached the first and asked, "What are you doing?"
Annoyed, the first man answered, "What does it look like I'm doing? I'm laying bricks!"
He walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question.
The second man responded, "Oh, I'm making a living."
He asked the third bricklayer the same question.
The third looked up, smiled and said, "I'm building a cathedral."
The third had a sense of purpose.
This leads us to mission statements. Mission statements are really purpose statements and must let employees and customers know why your company exists. Of course, the obvious answer is "to make money," but as we saw with our tree-chopping story, that answer will rarely inspire employees or give them a sense of purpose. So, your mission statement is really your purpose statement. Consider this snippet from Starbucks' mission statement:
To inspire and nurture the human spirit---one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. Here are the principles of how we live that every day:
It has always been, and will always be, about quality. We're passionate about ethically sourcing the finest coffee beans, roasting them with great care, and improving the lives of people who grow them. We care deeply about all of this; our work is never done.
We're called partners, because it's not just a job, it's our passion. Together, we embrace diversity to create a place where each of us can be ourselves. We always treat each other with respect and dignity. And we hold each other to that standard.
When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers- even if just for a few moments. Sure, it starts with the promise of a perfectly made beverage, but our work goes far beyond that. It's really about human connection.
When our customers feel this sense of belonging, our stores become a haven, a break from the worries outside, a place where you can meet with friends.
OK, some of that may sound like nonsense to you. But you must admire what Starbucks is trying to accomplish with that mission statement. Above all, they are trying to tell their employees, customers and communities why they exist. The purpose behind Starbucks, and if employees buy into that purpose, they won't see Starbucks as a commons, where they grab what they want and leave. They see themselves as part of a community effort, striving toward some basic, worthwhile goals. Let's take a quick look at McDonald's mission statement:
McDonald's vision is to be the world's best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.
Again note the sense of purpose embedded in that mission statement: To make every customer smile. Finally, State Farm emphasizes they exist for a purpose higher than selling insurance:
To educate and build relationships with our current and future customers. To establish and preserve our neighborhoods and schools, and to demonstrate the good neighbor philosophy through our education and safety programs, volunteer efforts and our alliances with many diverse communities.
You always want to avoid the problems of the commons in your company, in which every employee is in it for themselves. To imbue a sense of belonging and teamwork in employees, you must imbue their work with a sense of purpose. And you must communicate that sense of purpose to employees, when and wherever two or more are gathered. That sense of purpose must be crystallized in a mission statement. View a mission statement more as a "purpose statement" stating the higher reasons your company exists. Otherwise, you will be merely writing words no one will buy into.