Mission: Guardrails for Success

This article is the second in a series on the Navvigator blog by Stephanie Kusibab.  Check out her Vision article here.

As an entrepreneur, your nature is to want to start new things. You see an opportunity, and you follow it. You identify a need, and you want to fill it. Someone comes up with a good idea, and you seize it. All amazing traits for an inventor. But, when your desire to invent turns into a desire to build a business, you may need to focus your energy – at least for a little while. That’s not to say that you should stop seeing, identifying and seizing. You just need to put some parameters around the ideas you pursue.

On the one hand, you are experimenting, testing to see what works, talking to potential customers to see what sticks. On the other hand, if you don’t know where you are going, then it’s easy to get lost along the way. As an entrepreneur, you can sometimes get caught in a constant loop of directional changes and adjustments that can threaten progress. You may need to create some boundaries.

In addition to creativity, building a business takes focus. It’s easy to shift gears and change your mind when you’re working alone. But when you are working with others, too many shifts can be disorienting and create chaos. Or, worse yet, threaten buy-in and stop progress altogether.

You know you can’t build a business alone. Whether they are partners, employees, advisors, customers, engineers, or investors, you WILL need to bring other people along on the journey. Doing so requires you to be able to clearly articulate not only your vision – how the world will be a better place because your company is in it – but also your mission.

In a single sentence, your mission concisely defines why your business exists. At a high level, it describes what your organization will do, for whom, and how. Your mission ultimately provides guideposts for decision-making and parameters for action.

Your mission statement captures the essence of your direction by describing the types of customers you intend to serve, how you help them, and the architecture of the products/services you provide. And in doing so, it ensures everyone you are collaborating with is moving in the same direction. Here are a few classic examples with breakdowns of the what, for whom and how:

Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.

What we do: bring the best personal computing experience
For whom: students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world
How: innovative hardware, software and internet offerings

Our business idea supports this vision by offering a wide range of well-designed functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.

What we do: offer a wide range of well-designed functional home furnishing products
For whom: as many people as possible
How: at prices so low they are affordable to many

Association for Creative Industries
AFCI fosters interest in the global creative community by connecting, inspiring and educating industry professionals who in turn engage and enable creators.

What we do: foster interest in the creative community
For whom: industry professionals who engage and enable creators around the globe
How: by connecting, inspiring and educating industry professionals

Think of a mission as guardrails, keeping you and your collaborators going in the same direction and stopping you from going off on too many side streets or down into a ditch.

For example, as a sourcing employee at IKEA, I know I can’t be looking at the most expensive fabric, or building products out of mahogany. I need to be thinking about materials that will keep our prices low while still delivering high-quality. You can see how this mission led IKEA to rethink the way they build, package and ship furniture – creating the now-familiar DIY way of shipping flat and building on-site, or by allowing customers to pick their own boxed products from the warehouse floor in an IKEA showroom. The practical decisions of developing product, serving customers, and growing the business are all made with this singular mission squarely in mind.

It may be early days for your business, and your mission may need to be refined over time. But, spending some time now thinking about your mission and being intentional about shaping it can be a powerful way to provide direction and keep you on the right path. It captures the essence of your business in a way that is easy to share and paints a picture of the desired road ahead for anyone helping you reach your destination. As an entrepreneur, you need to follow the passion that got you here. At the same time, be sure you don’t get sidetracked by unnecessary detours. 

Determine the essence of what you do, for whom, and how and then stay focused on reaching that outcome. The way may not be straight and there will likely be roadblocks in your path. But, with the destination clearly in view, getting there will become infinitely easier and the reward at the end of the journey immense.

stephanie kusibab
Stephanie is VP of Business Strategy for Savvyeur and CEO of Essentiam , a strategy consultancy. Stephanie is passionate about generative conversations that lead to professional and organizational clarity.
Let’s start a conversation: skusibab@savvyeur.com