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Single-Minded

Keep your employees on track with a written mission statement.

Most entrepreneurs have a very clear understanding of the mission of their businesses. They know what they're doing, how it's being done, and who their customers are. So the question about mission statements, according to Gerald Graham, dean of the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas, is not whether you need one, but why it should be written down.

"A mission statement defines what an organization is, why it exists, its reason for being," says Graham. "Writing it down and communicating it to others creates a more coherent approach to what you're trying to do." No matter how small your company is, a written mission statement helps everyone involved see the big picture and keeps them focused on the true goals of the business.

According to Graham, at a minimum your mission statement should define who your primary customers are, identify the products and services you produce, and describe the geographical location in which you operate. A mission statement should be short-usually just one sentence and no more than two. Anything longer isn't a mission statement.

To develop a mission statement, Graham advises, write down in one sentence what you think the purpose of your business is. Ask two or three of the key people in your company to do the same thing. Then discuss the statements and come up with one sentence everyone agrees with. Once you have articulated your message, communicate it to everyone in the company.

"Post it on the wall, hold meetings to talk about it, and include reminders of the statement in employee correspondence," says Graham.

Graham adds it is more important to communicate the mission statement to employees than to customers. "The most effective mission statements are developed strictly for internal communication and discussion," says Graham. "Then if something promotional comes out of it, fine." In other words, your mission statement doesn't have to be clever or catchy-just accurate.

As your company and the overall business and economic climate evolve, you may need to revise your mission statement to make sure it accurately reflects your goals. To accomplish this, annually ask yourself if the statement still correctly describes what you're doing.

If your annual review results in a revision of the statement, be sure everyone in the company is aware of the change. Make a big deal out of it. After all, a change in your mission probably means your company is growing-and that is a big deal.


Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer in Winter Park, Florida.

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This article was originally published in the January 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Single-Minded.

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