Creating a Meaningful Financial Services Mission Statement
The mission of this article is to explain the essence and importance of the corporate mission statement. Many organizations discount the value of a mission statement and several even take pride in not having one. A good mission statement can, however, contribute to an organization’s success by providing a clearer focus for all corporate activities and creating clarity and consensus around the company’s objectives and capabilities.
A Statement of Corporate Personality
Organizations, like individuals, possess a set of identifying characteristics that impact how they are viewed by the outside world. Unlike individuals, however, organizations consist of a number of people who simultaneously interact with a number of constituencies. A mission statement helps orchestrate these multiple interactions by providing a common point of reference for organizational unity. A well-crafted document clearly articulates what the organization stands for and where it’s headed, helps codify management thinking, and can be influential in shaping and communicating the identity of an organization.
The Northwestern Mutual Way
“The ambition of the Northwestern has been less to be large than to be safe; its aim is to rank first in benefits to policyowners rather than first in size. Valuing quality above quantity, it has preferred to secure its business under certain salutary restrictions and limitations rather than to write a much larger business at the possible sacrifice of those valuable points which have made the Northwestern pre-eminently the policyholder’s Company.”
The history of Northwestern Mutual provides a time-tested exemplar of the value of promoting and following a well-understood, clearly articulated mission statement. In 1888, Northwestern Mutual Life created The Northwestern Mutual Way, an expression of the guiding principles that the company continues to use to measure their corporate success. This corporate credo has helped Northwestern make consistent decisions, create organizational unity and integrate short- and long-range goals.
Tips for Developing an Enduring Mission Statement
It takes effort and commitment to create a statement that truly reflects an organization’s beliefs and goals. We have, over time, developed a few important guidelines that can help facilitate the development of an effective mission statement.
Tip #1 Solicit Input from Key Individuals throughout the Company. Experience shows that one of the most effective approaches is to assign the job of crafting the mission statement to a group that includes a diversity of representation and operates within an imposed but realistic deadline.
Tip #2 Define the Target Audience. Mission statements can be designed for general distribution or for a specific audience, such as employees, customers or shareholders. The target audience selected will also help determine the length and visibility of the statement.
Tip #3 Determine What Form and Tone the Statement Should Take. Corporate objectives as well as the needs and preferences of the target audience should drive this decision. Some organizations write a straightforward statement of purpose, while others focus on conveying their philosophy or code of ethics. Titles such as “This We Believe,” “Our Way,” “Corporate Goals,” “Our Vision” and “Values We Share” reflect the focus of a given mission statement and the priorities of the organization.
Tip #4 Watch Your Language. The consistent use of carefully selected key words can facilitate the development of a focused mission statement. A review of numerous statements reveals repeated use of the following key words:
Tip #5 Make It Personal. Many approaching the creation of a mission statement for the first time often lean too heavily on their research into the mission statements of other companies. Admittedly, a review of what others have crafted can provide a valuable starting point. However, an effective mission statement must reflect the adopting corporation’s true personality—its beliefs, culture and practices. It is, in effect, a valuable corporate asset that most companies choose to copywrite.
The Bottom Line
It is not easy to create an effective mission statement that is truly reflective of the organization’s beliefs and goals. It takes hard work and the carefully considered input of key individuals throughout the organization. However, a properly executed mission statement can provide meaningful rewards for the investment of time and effort. Any organization—large or small—that decides to operate without such a statement deprives itself of an important tool that can help it to achieve greater organizational focus.