Confuse mission statements with a sense of mission at your peril. Lofty statements do not translate into a sense of mission without continual thought and effort – writes Scott Guthrie

A mission statement is a written declaration of a firm’s purpose, values and strategy along with how these intellectual ideals can be converted into action, policies and behaviour guidelines.

Yet all-too-often the aim of these statements gets lost; downgraded into external image management; designed just to sit on the about us pages of the corporate website; demoted to mere promotional tools geared towards potential customers.

Confuse mission statements with a sense of mission at your peril. Grand statements do not translate into a sense of mission without continual thought and effort.


Sense of mission as emotional commitment

Whereas a mission statement is a written statement, a sense of mission is an emotional commitment made towards the firm’s mission. The sense of mission only happens when there’s a match between the values of the firm and those of each person working there.

We sense organisational values by the way companies act and tolerate the behaviour of others. If companies say they care about co-operative working, for example, we can put that to the test in the way they act.

Any discrepancy between what a company does and what a company says it does will be picked up and exploded by others via social media. The distance between the two forms a legitimacy gap. A gap turned to a chasm by customers on Facebook and Twitter and by employees on Glassdoor.

READ: Employee engagement meets reputation management as Glassdoor hits $1billion valuation

The values match is the most important part of a sense of mission. It is through values that we feel an emotional bond with organisations.

High emotional commitment leads to increased discretionary effort – the level of effort people could give if they could be bothered to.

We can be bothered to do more when we identify with the values and behaviours lying behind the mission statement.


Strategy as a subset of mission

Mission statements are intellectual concepts. As such, they can be analysed and dissected at arms’ length dispassionately. Like strategy, mission can be used to guide the policies and actions of a firm. But, strategy is a subset of mission. A sense of mission embraces both strategy and culture.

The strategy part of a sense of mission legislates what is important to the commercial future of the company. The values element of the mission legislates what is important to the culture of the company.

When strategy and values are in sync and bound with purpose they reinforce each other.


Sense of mission is emotional and personal

Sense of mission is not an intellectual concept. It’s emotional and personal. The individual with a sense of mission has an emotional attachment and commitment to the company, what it believes in and what it aims to achieve.

Having a clearly articulated mission statement does not necessarily translate into having a strong sense of mission.

Whilst writing mission statements usually focuses on what a firm holds dear and usually remains constant over time, having a strong sense of mission is not a set-and-forget motto-writing exercise. It is a continuous, tinkering process. By being clear about the need to create a relationship between strategy and values and articulate behaviour standards business leaders can avoid a superficial attitude and embrace continual evolution.


PR helps embed mission statement as firm’s DNA

A firm’s purpose and values go beyond their statements of mission and vision. Values and principles shouldn’t be instruments of external image management. Rather they are ethical commitments to different stakeholder interests.

Modern PR helps firms lift these promises off the pages of the employee handbook and bed them down as part of the firm’s DNA.

Over time these principles become the base upon which the decisions and actions of employees are made.

READ: Public relations professionals should ask: does it pass the smell test? As they become ethical guardians

Public relations professionals are well placed to help business leaders articulate what the company stands for and how it can live up to what it says it is.

In other words, PR professionals should play a major part in developing the organisation’s corporate values and ethics from which positive action is driven.

This means co-creating the firm’s purpose and values with business leaders. It doesn’t mean that the C-suite can sub-contract this role out to the comms department in order to focus on ‘real’ business.


Sense of mission provides higher rewards than a marketing tagline

Values and purpose are the cornerstones of real business in the social age for belief and behaviours-led organisations.

I’ve helped several companies meld aspiration and high purpose with a strategy which harnesses their resources and capabilities. Often this work starts when a firm wants to write new content for its website. I help businesses understand that a sense of mission is long-term commitment with higher rewards than a marketing tagline. 



Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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  1. Interesting post, Scott. I think some organisations confuse a mission statement with a value proposition. Plus most mission statements are hairy fairy affairs, and don’t include any sense of measurement. As an employee I would want to know how do we know when we get there, when we achieve our mission. Here’s a good post on the subject from the author of Essentialism, a book I read recently.

    1. For sure mission statements should capture all the good stuff like:
      • Who are we?
      • Who do we want to be?
      • How are we going to get there?
      • What do we hold to be important?
      • What do we believe in?

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this post, Dave. Thanks, too, for sharing the HBR post. A great read.

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