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3 Steps to a More Meaningful Mission Statement

3 Steps to a More Meaningful Mission Statement

Can a well-crafted mission statement drive employee engagement in your organization?  It’s possible, especially when paired with a simple, 3-step, employee-driven process.

I recently attended an energizing presentation by Lawrence Greenspun of the Drucker Institute, where he laid out a remarkably simple approach to developing an organizational mission statement. Greenspun is passionate in his belief that an agency’s mission statement drives staff engagement by connecting each employee to something bigger than themselves. That connection is made real by a clear, concise statement that communicates to each individual employee, from executive to seasonal laborer, how their work aligns with the mission of the organization.

The Process

Here are the three simple steps for creating your agency’s mission statement.

Step 1. Capture What Your Organization Does

In this step, you look at what your organization accomplishes by writing down what its most valuable asset — its employees — do every day.

First, bring together both staff and elected officials from all levels of the organization in a big room, then break people up into 4 groups. This could be a room of 36 people or 100, but divide them into groups of four.

Each group is given 10 blank sentence strips. The sentence strips are literally the 3 x 24-inch tag board strips that some readers will remember having written sentences on in first grade. Using a sentence strip, have the participants at the table write down one task or responsibility that someone in the group has. Critically, these tasks must be written out in full sentences. For example, one sentence strip might read: “I manage the construction of roads, trails, and stormwater facilities in our community.” Have the groups continue until all 10 sentence strips have been completed.

Step 2. Create Groups of Like Things

In this step, you create groups out of similar sentence strips and then categorize these.

Once each group has written its 10 sentences, have them share the strips with the whole room by taping these up on a whiteboard, corkboard, or wall. This is where the beauty of the sentence strip comes in. You have a wall full of clear, complete sentences in legible handwriting. There’s no sticky-note problem where the participants spend precious time trying to read and interpret scratchy writing on a small card.

Once the strips are on the board, have the participants work together to move them into common categories. Patterns should emerge as the group identifies common themes across departments. The group should then develop a name for each of the categories identified.

Step 3. Define What We Do and What We Want

The final step is creating the mission statement, or a statement of what an agency does and what it hopes to achieve in doing this work.

Start this step by boiling down the broad categories of work into their essence. The result should be a statement that is 5—6 words long but no longer than 52 characters, including spaces. Why 52 characters? This is the length of the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As Greenspun advises, “If 52 characters can express the rule for all interpersonal relations, it can express your mission statement.”

The most memorable mission statements follow an easy formula of stating “what we do and what we want.” For example, the Drucker Institute’s mission is: “Strengthening organizations to strengthen society.” The mission for the City of South Bend, Indiana is: “We deliver services that empower everyone to thrive.” Each expresses what the organization does and what it is aspiring to achieve in less than 52 characters.

The key to an engaging mission statement is that everyone in the organization can easily say it word for word and that everyone has a common understanding of the mission. Greenspun suggests that it is important for everyone to be able to state the organizational mission from memory.

Once your groups have determined the organizational mission statement, each individual can then define how his/her job contributes to the overall mission using a similar, 3-step process.

The Role of the Mission Statement

Why is the mission so important to an organization? Your agency’s resources are like a quiver of arrows; if they aren’t all pointed at a common target, you are just shooting them off everywhere.

Greenspun counsels, “Don’t just do stuff. Establish a top line metric and align priorities to it.” In South Bend, Indiana, everyone from the payroll assistant to the firefighter knows that they are part of the greater purpose of delivering services that empower all area constituents to thrive.

What if you work in an organization where the leadership doesn’t see the value in defining its mission or aligning priorities? Greenspun suggests that you can use the same 3-step process to define your own personal mission statement. Post it prominently in your work space. Talk about it with coworkers who ask you what it is. Maybe it will catch on.

Questions? Comments

If you have questions about this or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post, please comment below or email me at

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Tracy Burrows

As MRSC’s Executive Director, Tracy seeks out innovations in local government, tracking trends in management and technology that impact your work. She has over 20 years of local government and non-profit experience, specializing in growth management, transportation, and general city management issues.