If your credit union has a mission statement framed and prominently displayed in every office, then you probably don’t want to hear that mission statements don’t matter.

Mission Question-iStock_000008798782XSmall

If your credit union spent months crafting the “perfect” mission statement, then you probably don’t want to hear that mission statements don’t matter.

Though you may not want to hear it, you need to hear it: Missions matter, but mission statements don’t.

Why? Because actions speak louder than words. If your credit union team isn’t walking the talk, then the talk no longer matters.

The truth is that mission statements have evolved from their initial purpose. They came about as a way of keeping organizations (and teams) reminded of the mission they were on –a shorthand way of expressing the ultimate objective (and what would and would not be done in pursuit of that objective). As a result, mission statements were widely adopted as something corporations, small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and essentially everyone should have.

That’s a great idea and it has a lot of merit, but the reality is this: The desire to craft perfectly-worded all encompassing statements displaced the original intent (and lengthy debates about including this word or that word had zero impact on business success).

What is important is the mission and the outcome it drives you toward—the ultimate destination you’re pursuing. But time spent writing about it is not all that productive, and all too often replaces the serious thinking, discussion, and analysis required to discover the right strategic mission for the credit union.

My take: Many credit unions (and other businesses) have spent countless hours holed up in meeting rooms crafting well written mission statements. And frankly, that is a complete waste of time.

Reworking a mission statement that is not aligned with the culture of your organization, not aligned with the core beliefs of your leadership team, and not aligned with a well-defined strategic vision gets you nowhere.

Half the time (if not way more often), mission statements get so wordy that they don’t even make sense. They become a run-on sentence followed by a collection of bullet points. They are read (and tweaked) many times by the committee or task force that created them, but seldom by the people who are responsible for achieving the mission.

Consider this one for example (company name omitted because it seems like the right thing to do):

Expand The Company’s presence in direct selling, empowering women to achieve economic independence by offering a superior earnings opportunity as well as recognition, service and support, making it easy and rewarding to be affiliated with The Company.

Incidentally, this is one of six sections of The Company’s mission statement. But there’s little or no chance anyone working for The Company will ever remember that this is the company mission statement. Most won’t even recall that it has six areas of focus, let alone be able to make decisions on a day-to-day basis about how to live up to it.

The point: Mission statements should not be as complicated (or time consuming) as most organizations make them. They are intended to define what the company stands for in a few words—words that will motivate and guide the people who drive the success of the business.

The Nonprofit Hub suggests three pivotal elements (recommended reading, by the way) of a great mission statement – cause, action and impact. They suggest that your mission statement should say who or what your organization is, what your organization does, and how it is going to impact the people it serves.

Mission statements also should be kept to one or two short sentences and include a specific strategic outcome. National City Corporation’s mission statement is an example that generally follows these recommendations:

National City Corporation will be a premier diversified financial services company providing customers with advice, information and services to meet their financial needs. We will achieve superior levels of financial performance as compared to our peers and provide stockholders with an attractive return on their investment over time.

While we could quibble (probably for a rather long time) about words like premier, diversified and superior, the gains would be minor. This statement stakes out a place where the business is heading in simple terms—terms that can be defined (and should be) by those responsible for producing the desired results.

Action Advice: If you want your mission statement to matter, make it brief, focused and memorable, (and don’t waste months perfecting the wording). Or, consider scrapping the mission statement altogether and creating a strategic mantra (more recommended reading) instead.