What is the purpose of a company mission?

As a business and HR tool, the company mission statement isn't always well-regarded or understood

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 14, 2024

Sometimes, a company writes its mission statement simply because its feels obliged to — and the result can be vague, generic… or even an object of mockery. In other words, it lacks any other purpose than to tick a box.

But when a company mission is written with real purpose, it can inspire and guide an organisation, its staff, and its customers. Here are two examples.

“Our mission is to be the consumer's first choice for food, delivering products of outstanding quality and great service at a competitive cost through working faster, simpler, and together.”Sainsbury’s

“To grow a profitable airline, where people love to fly and people love to work.”Virgin Atlantic

These examples define their companies’ aims in three key ways, illustrating the real purpose of a mission statement — and the value of a good one.

Why a mission statement?

It’s too obvious to say a mission statement defines your mission. The question is, why define it at all? What value does it bring?

A mission statement can:

  • Answer the question ‘who is your company?’ It’s the first thing potential customers, partners, and employees want to know. Inspire them with the answer, and they’re more likely to get on board.
  • Tell the world what you do, and why. When employees and customers believe in what you’re doing, motivation and engagement are higher.
  • Define your position in the market place. Which markets do you serve and what do you bring to them?
  • Say what problem you solve. Most companies exist to fill a gap in the market, or meet a specific need. Your mission statement can engage the people who need your help.
  • Set out your aims. Are you out to make the world a better place, or make bank? Defining goals in a mission statement can help attract the right employees, partners, and customers.

Internally, defining all these dimensions in a short, well-written statement can help to guide your organisation’s strategy now and in the future.

Who does the mission statement address?

A big reason a mission statement is hard to write is that it has three audiences: your employees, your customers, and your company stakeholders. A good mission statement addresses all three succinctly. Just look at the Virgin Atlantic example above — it tells each group what the company aims to do for them.

What does your organisation do for employees?

A key purpose of the mission statement is to inspire employees to join or stay with your organisation.

There isn’t room to go into detail. And it’s important not to promise something now, which you might not be able to offer in future — mission statements are usually in place for several years, don’t forget. At the same time, an overly generic statement will have no impact. A good mission defines the company’s overall aim for its employee environment.

What does your organisation do for customers?

A mission statement is also a tool for influencing potential customers to buy from you, or work with you.

So as with Sainsbury’s above — who aim to deliver “products of outstanding quality and great service at a competitive cost” — your mission statement should encapsulate why customers choose you.

What does your organisation do for owners?

A mission statement can seem like a very outward-facing document. Yet its purpose also includes guiding the direction of the organisation.

If your mission states clearly why the company operates — as in the Virgin example, “to grow a profitable airline” — it can guide decisions on strategy, values, and goals for years to come.

Alan Price

CEO, BrightHR and Group Chief Operating Officer

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