Improve Your Mission Statements.

I feel puzzled how vaguely some startup CEOs send their executives on their way to execute a “mission”.

Mission Statements describe the who, what, when, where, and why (the 5 W’s) of how a mission will be executed. A mission has one — and only one! — main goal. You might have one (one!) side objective, but there is only one main goal you want to achieve.  You should be able to execute a mission in a specific time frame, within specific rules of engagement (aka “ROE“):

“Assemble a team of five from our group (WHO). I want you to break our current sales playbook (ROE) and close two ‘medium size’ accounts (WHAT) in the mid-west (WHERE) on the new ‘golly-wog’ product (WHAT) within the next two months (WHEN). Feel free to change the messaging regarding the ‘golly-wog’ product as necessary (ROE). I budgeted is $12,000 (ROE). Let me know if you think you’re getting close to that (ROE). Do not change the main messaging or positioning of our firm (ROE). You can’t touch the accounts with the old ‘squiggy’ product (ROE). Maybe one of the wins could be an annual subscription (one side objective). I want to see if the midwest might need a different sales motion for fast-moving sales cycles (WHY).”

A good mission statement gives the team all the freedom to decide the best path forward by themselves within the rules of engagement. You can monitor their progress, but you can also let them run.

What if they break anything critical outside the communicated ROE? You were not specific enough, you did not think enough about interdependencies, you were not clear yourself about the right approach or ROE, and you could not formulate a clear mission. Great! You learned something! Now you can improve next time.

If you need to communicate a mission statement in an email or presentation, you might want to structure it as follows:

  1. What is the mission (WHAT, WHO, WHERE, WHEN)?
  2. Why is this the right mission (WHY)?
  3. How do we achieve the mission (ROE, aka “Strategy”)?
  4. “If faced with A or B, we do A. (… and here is why …)” (ROE, aka “What do we not do?”)

Point 4. is interesting if (a) your mission is breaking from previous behavior or processes, or (b) if you foresee specific time-critical decision points you want your team to move past quickly, or (c) if there are subtleties that you already thought through where you don’t want long debates.


Thoughts? Opinions? Comments? Corrections?