Matters Column

Have you formed a personal mission statement?

December 12, 2014
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Every organization must have a mission — a vision, a reason for “being.” Unless an organization exists to fulfill a specific and necessary purpose — to produce a product or provide a service — it will not survive. Without a mission, an organization cannot focus its resources toward the accomplishment of an identified purpose, choose the direction it should go, or qualify the decisions it must make as it establishes itself as being a vital and contributing part of the business community.

In order to be effective, an organization’s mission statement must clearly and concisely define why a business exists, what it does and, sometimes, who it serves, in a way that can be easily remembered and communicated by all involved.

Nike has established the phrase, "To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world" as its mission statement, implying what it does by who it serves.

"Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time" is the stated purpose of Starbucks, never mentioning “coffee” but referring to the inspirational experience it hopes to provide.

Coca Cola’s mission, “To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit; to inspire moments of optimism through our brands and actions; to create value and make a difference everywhere we engage” states what the company does without ever saying what it produces.

The Employers’ Association’s mission is: “To provide practical Human Resource solutions to West Michigan business promoting operational excellence and sustainability,” defining what we provide, to whom it is provided and what our service is intended to accomplish.

While no two mission statements are the same, each successful enterprise must be able to state why it exists by communicating what product, service or value is being provided in a way that people understand — and can hopefully easily remember when a need materializes.

People often accept that business needs a mission — a purpose and reason to exist — but fail to transfer that essential reality to their own lives. In order to establish value in ourselves, everyone needs to establish a personal mission statement to guide individual actions, efforts and activities.

A personal mission statement is a bit different from a company mission statement, but the fundamental principles are the same: It provides clarity and a sense of purpose; it defines who you are and how you will live. When we drift without purpose toward an unidentified objective, we take a long time to accomplish nothing.

While we cannot miss a target unless it has been clearly identified and posted — cannot fail unless we establish goals and objectives, life without purpose becomes meaningless. A sailboat needs a sail to capture the wind and a rudder to set a course if it is to move forward. It needs a keel to stabilize its journey and an anchor to hold it in place during times of rest. But unless a destination has been identified and deliberate action is taken to move toward it, the best wind, the most favorable seas and the mildest conditions will be wasted unless a “reason to sail” has been established.

Unless we personally know what we wish to accomplish through our actions and decisions, we will never learn what we need to know to add value to ourselves, our friends or our society as we seek to make a difference in life. We must dedicate our actions, efforts and thoughts toward the accomplishment of something if we hope to accomplish anything.

Writing a personal mission statement offers the opportunity to establish what is important, often allowing us to make a decision and stick to it before we waste energy and resources without knowing where we want to go. As we establish a personal mission statement, we should ask the right questions rather than trying to provide the correct answers and expand our horizons to regions we have not yet explored rather than limiting them to our “known and comfortable” universe.

An individual mission may be as simple as: “I will make a difference in all I say or do,” or “I will live everyday with integrity and vow to make a positive difference in the lives of others utilizing my knowledge for the good of all people.”

It may be as complex as, “I will pursue knowledge that can, through intentional actions and experiences, be transformed to wisdom. I will apply wisdom to advance myself and others around me while seeking and establishing new opportunities that add value to my life and my community. I will never give up while realizing all that I might hope or imagine myself to be.”

As you make plans for a prosperous new year, “memorialize” your dreams by putting them in writing. Tell a trusted friend or business associate about your goals and aspirations so they can hold you accountable for their fulfillment. When someone lives life without a mission, they may never fail but they also can never truly excel. To make people matter, we must live a life that matters to ourselves.

As the year winds down, celebrate how much you accomplished, using it as a starting point for the year’s new beginnings. Refuse to live your life without validating and reinforcing your purpose. As you develop a mission and a vision that will allow you to move forward toward an established destination, embrace each opportunity and bump in the road as being a necessary step (rather than an end destination) that, when resolved, will allow you to tread steadfastly on the winding path toward success.

David Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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