I have been doing a bit of sporadic coaching of mostly smaller companies who, like many, are finding navigating these rough seas pretty tough. Frankly, calling it coaching implies some sort of paid official relationship, so let’s call it “advising” or “having free coffee, I want to bounce some ideas off you.” I enjoy helping whenever and wherever I can. Free coffee, besides.

I am struck by this whole mission statement thing. They must teach Building a Mission Statement in business school somewhere. You know the drill. Times get tough, you need to focus, change up some things, get creative, solve problems, re trench and re evaluate. Someone then says, “what is our mission around here, anyway? What are we trying to do?”

Then, the offsite happens. You go off site to a nice place, with free pencils, JUICE during breaks, and way-nice breakfast rolls. You hire a facilitator, generally some ex HR person, who is very smooth at this sort of thing. It all seems the right thing to do, you are talking about key issues, and your team is working well together. Side teams are formed, they report back to the main group with their suggestions, and two days later…these things take time…you have a new mission statement that adroitly communicates exactly what it is you do.

Then at home, Hilda (my catchall name for any spouse, be it M or F), asks you how the meeting went, and you try the MISSION STATEMENT out for the first time. If you glaze her eyes over, you have a bad one. If she nods, smiles even, and then later TELLS her friends about it, you have a good one.

My first startup was a company called Varitronics. Scott Drill and I started it because the entrenched monopolist in the adhesive backed tape market, Kroy, was creating an opportunity by the way they were mistreating their extensive dealer network. (Note: before the little Brother machines arrived, Kroy and Varitronics started this entire market. How we missed that market is not the point of this post.)

After figuring out how to make a machine that did the same thing, but better and faster and with better discounts for dealers, we launched the product and the company with an ad in the trade press that shouted, “We Beat the Helvetica Out of Kroy.”

As we were building our team, we decided to do an offsite to get our mission statement down on paper. I don’t think we could afford a facilitator but we had the whole deal, charts on the wall, lots of ideas and grand-sounding big company phrasing.  We were going to be the next GM of the Graphics World if memory serves, or some such nonsense.

We were well on our way to getting the right one when Scott interrupted the whole meeting and basically said, “Who are we kidding? We have one mission and we all know what it is. It’s Beat Kroy.”

So whenever I see someone struggling with their own mission statement, I want to tell this story again and again. For you literal types, you do not have to have a mission statement that beats anyone. The point is: tell it in five words or less so Hilda tells her friends.