This page is a work in progress, part of a multi-year effort to capture and share learnings, frameworks, tools, and processes to run organizations. See Running Organizations for more.

What Is Mission?

“Nietzsche says, ‘Man is the sick animal.’ Man is the animal that doesn’t know what to do with itself. The mind has many possibilities, but we can live no more than one life. What are we going to do with ourselves?” - Joseph Campbell

Mission is about what you do and you who you do it for. Mission guides your purpose. Mission articulates the challenge for your organization.

Missions are ambitious and long-lasting. They rarely change over time, and you should plan your organizational mission to last many years.

Why Articulate a Mission?

The mission is the starting point of any kind of effort. The mission is the glue that binds people together. Being a member of a team that's creating something of value, even if we can't control the output or if we're only responsible for a small piece of that overall value, creates meaning in mundane tasks.

"The assembly worker on the line in this plant is not just finessing a door, he's building a car," one plant manager said to me. "And we make sure our people know and see and meet and talk to our customers, the people out there who will own this car, use it, and depend on it. So he's not just finessing a door, not even just building a car. He's serving the transportation needs of people." - Peter Scholtes (Source: The Leader's Handbook)

Google's Mission

Google was very clear about its Mission early on. Their mission drove the culture they built and the products they created.

Google’s Mission:
  • "Our Mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful… This kind of Mission gives individuals' work meaning, because it is a moral rather than a business goal. The most powerful movements in history have had moral motivations… Crucially, we can never achieve our Mission, as there will always be more information to organize and more ways to make it useful. This creates motivation to constantly innovate and push into new areas. A Mission that is about being "the market leader," once accomplished, offers little more inspiration. The broad scope of our Mission allows Google to move forward by steering with a compass rather than a speedometer." - Laszlo Bock (Source: Work Rules!)

What If We're Not Saving The World?

Most organizations aren't ending homelessness or solving world hunger. Some missions will be more inspiring than others. I believe that all organizations should probe, feel out, and work to articulate a mission, no matter how uninspiring it may be. Providing purpose and mission as clarity for your entire team matters as an alignment tool.

"Maybe you're not in the business of curing a disease. That doesn't mean your company can't help others who are. Whether you organize community service projects, give money away, or find another way of giving back to the community or world, you can galvanize your team around a mission or an ethos of service that makes your company stand for more than just your products." - Matt Blumberg (Source: Startup CEO)

Professional services companies are a great category where I believe mission matters, but most organizations’ missions end up looking very similar. David Maister, author of Managing the Professional Service Firm said that all firms eventually end up with the same Mission:

“To deliver outstanding client service; to provide fulfilling careers and professional satisfaction for our people; and to achieve financial success so that we can reward ourselves and grow.”

Teams Need Missions, Too

Teams should have a clear Mission - they should know why they exist and what interests they serve as a part of the broader organizational Mission. Team Missions need to make intent clear and should motivate people on the team to act with autonomy.

The Spotify Example

Spotify is organized around small cross-functional teams, and each of these 5-9 person teams has its own long-term mission.

"Technical staff at Spotify are arranged into small, autonomous, cross-functional squads, each with a longterm Mission and comprised of around five to nine people. Several squads that work on similar areas are collected into a tribe, a sort of affinity grouping of squads. The squads within a tribe are familiar with the work of other squads and coordinate inside the tribe." (Source: Team Topologies)

Crafting Mission Statements

What Is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement is a concise explanation of the organization's reason for existence. It explains the highest-level intention of the organization.

Mission Statement As Elevator Pitch

A well-crafted mission statement serves as an elevator pitch for the organization. If it reads well and sounds good out loud, anyone in the organization can use it to explain what the organization is trying to accomplish.

A mission statement should be aspirational, but not so high-minded that it sounds like puffery. As you write your mission statement, read your drafts aloud to check your language and ensure you like how it sounds.

A Mission Statement Can Include Your Purpose

A mission statement can include your purpose, and some of the best-articulated mission statements combine both purpose & mission.

Spotify, again, is an example of a company that combines purpose & mission. Their stated purpose is to unlock the potential of human creativity, and their mission is "giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it."

Spotify Example

“To unlock the potential of human creativity — by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.” (Source: About Spotify)

Mission Questions

To begin articulating a mission, write a few answers to the following questions.

Mission Questions
  • What do we do?
  • For whom do we do it?
  • How do we go about doing it?
  • Frame the Mission as a question, a challenge, or a problem everyone understands. "How will we...?" "How can we...?"
  • What is our function in the larger scheme of things?
  • What justifies our continued existence?

Enlist The Leadership Team To Help

Work with your leadership team or the broader company to elicit Mission (along with purpose, vision, core values) by having them share their thoughts on these questions:

Ask Your Leadership team (Source: The Leader's Handbook)
  1. What do you like about what you do here?
  2. What do you like about our industry or profession?
  3. What do you like about our company when it's at its best?
  4. What legacy do you want to leave behind -your personal contribution to this organization?
  5. 5. What legacy do you think we, collectively, should leave behind?

Find the common themes among the answers. If necessary, bring people into groups to review the common themes and give feedback.

Refine the themes and write a Mission Statement:
  • What Do We Do
  • For Whom Do We Do It
  • How Do We Go About Doing It

Mission Examples

Corporate Mission Examples
  • Bank of America: To help make financial lives better through the power of every connection.
  • Allstate: We help customers realize their hopes and dreams by providing the best products and services to protect them from life’s uncertainties and prepare them for the future.
  • Cardinal Health: To improve people’s lives by merging innovation and technology with healthcare.
  • Dove: Help women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential.
  • Huntington Bancshares: To make people’s lives better, help businesses thrive, and strengthen the communities we serve.
  • Ingredion: We bring the potential of people, nature, and technology together to make life better.
  • Southwest Airlines: Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.
  • TED: Spread ideas.
  • Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy through increasingly affordable electric vehicles in addition to renewable energy generation and storage.
  • Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. (*If you have a body, you are an athlete.)
  • LinkedIn: To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.
  • Amazon: To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, Earth’s best employer, and Earth’s safest place to work
  • Pinterest: Bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love.
  • Honest Company: Meaningful transparency and thoughtful design. We’re on a mission to change the world, one product at a time.