Tell me your whole mission in four words or less
I once worked as a contractor for a company that was introducing a new initiative to identify its long list of values. The company posted its values to a “wallet card” hoping the employees would carry the cards with them wherever they went and would often use the cards to recite the values to each other. I wasn’t there long enough to see if the campaign was successful or not. I didn’t need to stay there long enough to know how it went. It went like this:
The only reason the employees would carry the wallet cards would be if the employees were threatened with punishment for not doing so – no one would actually do that by choice. Even if the company forced its employees to carry the cards, no one would ever bother to memorize all the values. Why should they? They’re printed on all of those cards. Might as well save that memory in your brain for something important like what you’re going to have for dinner or where you need to be right after you leave work.
If you want people to understand your values, you have to get to the point and focus on the big idea. The best mission statement I ever learned was from a world-class research hospital:
Finding cures, saving lives.
Four words – that was all. Yet it told you all you needed to know. The patients’ lives were threatened by mysterious, yet deadly diseases. The hospital treated the sick, while researching and testing cures that could prevent their illnesses. They used four words to describe what I just described using 25.
Of course, there was more to it than that - it would take many, many words to adequately describe the science, technology and innovation that contribute to the hospital's success. But in four words, they described their mission. And they described it in a way that anyone could understand it. A Fortune 500 CEO could understand it. A world-renowned doctor could understand it. A clerk could understand it.
You could try to outdo that mission statement if you want, but I doubt you can use four words to describe your mission in as powerful a way.
The power and clarity of those four words should show you that we raise our chances for succeeding at fulfilling our mission the more we pare that mission down to its most important elements and solely focus on the essential goals to accomplish. When communicating a call to action, it’s not necessary to recite a whole list of objectives or spell out a number of goals that will be forgotten just as soon as they’re communicated.
Just keep it simple - see, that’s four words that tell you the whole story in a way you can take action and won’t soon forget.