When was the last time someone on your team said, “Well, let’s test that against our mission,” or “Since our mission directs us toward focusing more on this, we really need to make some adjustments in our plan”?

One of the greatest management thinkers was Russell Ackoff, a Wharton professor who broke ground in organizational theory and operations research. His research, teaching and consulting saved organizations. His work included transforming government and nonprofits, and in some cases, he sent them on tremendous growth trajectories.

He proposed five aspects make up a healthy mission statement that can have an impact and actually grow your business.

Measurable Value. First, he said a mission statement should contain a formulation of the organization’s objectives and enable progress toward objectives to be measured. For the mission statement to have value, adopting it must change an organization’s behavior.       

Stand Out. Second, he said a mission statement differentiates a company from others. It should establish the organization’s individuality and perhaps its uniqueness.

A great test of a valid mission statement is whether someone reasonably can disagree with it. Most mission statements are rubbish. They discuss being the biggest or best and, thus, are completely rudderless guiding posts for helping your team to differentiate itself from the competition. Nor is being the biggest or the mostest a strategy. Divergence, vision and intensified focus are keys to good strategy.

Define Trajectory. Third, Ackoff spoke of how a mission statement should define the work that the company wants to do, not necessarily the work it does. It shares what you want to be versus where you are, so it can mention aspects of your vision.

Reflection Of Your Business. Fourth, a mission statement should be relevant to all of the organization’s stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, the public, shareholders and employees. The mission should state how the company intends to serve each group. Most importantly, include the non-managerial employees. They are the ones who execute the plan, so include them, or lose them!

Create Excitement. Finally, and of great importance, Ackoff said a mission statement should excite and inspire. It should stir the hearts of your employees and, ideally, those of your customers.

Where To Start. For all that, Ackoff’s contemporary and good friend Peter Drucker would add this about a mission statement: “It should fit on a T-shirt. It must be clear, and it must inspire.”

Indeed, all of the above is a tall order. Here is a template that helps many of our clients create the beginnings of a more powerful and growth-inspiring mission statement. Fill in the blanks: “We work with ____ who want to ____, and we work with ____ who want to ____, and we do all of this while helping to ____.”

Following this outline to build a mission and direct you toward a focused purpose will help to improve your organization’s decision-making and growth.