What Is a Mission Statement?

A definition with examples from well-known companies

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A mission statement is a brief description of a company's fundamental purpose. It answers the question, "Why does our business exist?" The mission statement articulates the company's purpose both for those in the organization and for the public.

As you'll see from the examples, mission statements are as varied as the companies they describe. However, as Fred David describes it in "Strategic Management: Concepts and Cases," all mission statements will "broadly describe an organization's present capabilities, customer focus, activities, and business makeup."

Why Having a Mission Statement Is Important

Every business should have a mission statement, both as a way of ensuring that everyone in the organization is "on the same page" and to serve as a baseline for effective business planning.

The mission statement definition itself is often the result of group consensus effort, and writing a mission statement is viewed as a valuable team-building exercise.

Because mission statements are part of a company's public face, they are also often used in a company's marketing. Businesses frequently include them on the about page on their website, for instance. Sometimes a company's mission statement even becomes the core of its advertising, such as when the B.C. Credit Unions used the slogan "people before profits" as the basis of their marketing campaign.

A Mission Statement Is Not a Vision Statement

The difference between a mission statement and a vision statement is that a mission statement focuses on a company’s present state while a vision statement focuses on a company’s future.

Think of it this way; a mission statement answers the question "Who are we?" and the vision statement answers the question "Where are we going?"

When Mission Statements Backfire

Properly crafted, a mission statement can lend a strategic focus to an organization and motivate employees to work together toward a common goal. Unfortunately, mission statements often consist of the latest buzzwords or business jargon and have unrealistic or unattainable goals, all of which can negatively affect employee morale. That's why mission statements are frequently the target of business comic strips such as Dilbert.

Having a coherent, realistic mission statement is fundamental to engaging your employees and fulfilling your corporate goals. Ways to achieve this include:

  • Gathering employee input when crafting the mission statement
  • Explicitly recognizing the talents and contributions of employees in the mission statement (see the Royal Canadian Mint example below)

Examples of Mission Statements

Here are the mission statements of some well-known (and lesser-known) companies and government entities:

  • Amazon: "Our mission is to be Earth's most customer-centric company. This is what unites Amazonians across teams and geographies as we are all striving to delight our customers and make their lives easier, one innovative product, service, and idea at a time."
  • Tesla: "Tesla's mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."
  • Apple: "Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork, and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad."
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways: "... to embrace the human spirit and let it fly."
  • Tata Motors: "We innovate mobility solutions with passion to enhance quality of life."
  • Walmart: "Save people money so they can live better."
  • Costco has a very similar mission statement, "to continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices."
  • Canadian Tire: “We are one of Canada’s most admired and trusted companies. With world-class owned brands and exciting market-leading merchandising strategies, we are continually innovating with purpose: to excite and serve Canadian customers from coast to coast."
  • The Royal Canadian Mint: "The Royal Canadian Mint is a world-class provider of branded investment, collectible, and circulation coin products and services that connect people and inspire celebration."
  • The IRS: "Provide America's taxpayers top-quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all."
  • The Canada Revenue Agency: "Administer tax, benefits, and related programs, and ensure compliance on behalf of governments across Canada, thereby contributing to the ongoing economic and social well-being of Canadians."

Many of these company's mission statements have changed and evolved over the years. It's a good practice to set your mission statement from the start, but be sure you consistently review it to ensure it expresses your organizational purpose as you would articulate it today.