Of all the principles that Peter Drucker established for how an organization should craft a mission statement, surely the toughest to meet is this: “The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T-shirt.”
Over the years, we’ve found ourselves struggling mightily with this particular criterion, trying to come up with something sufficiently pithy while also meeting all the other markers that Drucker laid down. Does our mission statement capture our opportunities (where is there a genuine need in the community?), our competence (what can we really deliver?) and our commitment (what are we truly passionate about?). Does it inspire? Is it something that our staff, our board, our donors and our partners can all rally around?
That’s a lot of stuff to capture on a Hanes. And so we cheated, rationalizing our verbosity by noting that Drucker didn’t say what size T-shirt the mission had to fit on. An XXL, anyone?
One incarnation of our mission was “to stimulate ethical leadership and effective management across all sectors of society.” Another, more recent version was “to strengthen society by igniting effective, responsible and joyful management.”
A few weeks ago, after consulting with an outside communications expert, we gathered our team and went back at it—again. This time, we managed to boil things down to just five words: “strengthening organizations to strengthen society.”
Notably, this was the fourth attempt to hone our mission in six years. One could argue that we shouldn’t mess with things so much, that in the balance between continuity and change, we’ve tipped too far in one direction.
But as Drucker made clear, wrestling with his “Five Most Important Questions”—What is our mission? Who is our customer? What does the customer value? What are our results? What is our plan?—is a never-ending responsibility.
“Planning is not an event,” Drucker wrote. “It is the continuous process of strengthening what works and abandoning what does not.” He added: “The question must continually be asked, Why does the organization exist? What, in the end, do we want to be remembered for?”
We feel like we have our best answer yet. And it even fits on a T-shirt, size S.
Rick Wartzman and Zach First
Executive Director and Managing Director