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Is There a Better Alternative to the Mission Statement?

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There may be a better alternative to the mission statement—that one-sentence expression of your firm’s purpose, intended to guide and inspire employees.

Veteran business writer Warren Berger describes the problem in an episode of The Knowledge Project podcast. “Employees generally say, ‘I hate the mission statement. I don’t pay any attention to it. It’s boring.’ Half of them don’t even know what the mission statement is.”

Instead, he proposes creating a mission question.

The idea is that most if not all businesses can be explained as people working together on one big question. “That’s what a start-up is,” says Berger.

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The mission question “is whatever it is in their field they haven’t gotten to yet—the really big accomplishment.” Mission questions give companies the opportunity to be clear and straightforward about their purpose.

At the startups Berger interviewed for his latest work, The Book of Beautiful Questions, partners know the big question they’re working on but employees deeper in the org chart see their roles as small and purely functional.

Berger thinks companies can better engage all employees, particularly those further from the C-suite, by making them feel they’re helping to the answer that big question.

He’s seen just a few firms develop mission statements. “Senior management is like, ‘maybe.’” But employees say, “‘A mission question? I would love that.’”

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