Do you know a good mission statement when you see one?


I think many will agree that most companies have, or perhaps I should say make use of, mission statements. I also think that many will agree that most of those mission statements… are missing the point.

There are two key questions. Obviously there is: what is a good mission statement? But the more important question is: what is the purpose of a mission statement?

The second question feels odd in a certain way. Isn’t the mission statement about the purpose of the company? Yes it is, and it is here that I think many mission statements are off the mark. Yes the purpose of the company is described. Yes it is done in a way that aims to be inspirational… and a lot more yes it is that too…


The most important question to ask when making a mission statement is: who or what is the target audience? What do we need from them? Do they need to do something, or not, or… And this brings forward another important question: are mission statements static over time? No, they are not and this is the second point where many mission statements are off the mark.

I am not trying to say that mission statements should change overnight all the time. But people change over time, so audiences change over time and the words you use should change with it. Or, to put this from the reverse, when you focus your mission statement on what is relevant and important now it will be x-times more effective.

I think that many of the, often brief, mission statements provide a good core. But they are static while a good mission statement is dynamic and adaptive and can be built around a relatively constant core. An effective, as opposed to good, mission statement is like telling a compelling story and develop it over time. Missions aren’t static; a static mission is a mission on hold. So the statement develops as the mission develops. This also means that when the mission is done, all should be said and done.

For our strategy game FSEG we also looked at how to best incorporate this. How do you make people experience what an effective mission statement is? What we do is to have the players reverse engineer a historic proclamation: a mission statement avant la lettre. In our case we have based the game on Napoleon’s proclamation to the army of March 5th, 1815. It is a relatively long text, which makes it perfect for the game, and covers all the aspects of an effective mission statement as we know it today. More importantly… it was effective, very effective! Just 2 days later his men joined him once again and did so in droves. Louis XVIII had to flee the country and look for the allies to help him out… again..

It gets more interesting after the players have worked with the historic proclamation and we compare it to modern mission statements. Sometime the contrast couldn’t be bigger. Also comparing it to famous speeches shows why this 200 year old proclamation was so effective. The one-line learning that speaks from it is that a good mission statement makes people think… this: I am with you and no need to say more, I know what to do. An effective mission statement aligns people (sets all the noses in the right direction, as we say in the Netherlands) and – and this is the point of all points – puts them into motion.

Jan-Willem Boots is Co-Founder at Changing Games and designer of the Full Strategy Experience Game (FSEG).

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