Writing an Actionable Mission Statement

September 13, 2011
Susanne Madden

A company's mission statement should represent the core values and ideals of the founders' vision for their practice.

What's a mission statement anyway? A company's mission statement should represent the core values and ideals of the founders' vision for their practice. It should be a constant reminder to the company's employees and clients (your patients) of why the practice exists. Furthermore, a good mission statement is the tool by which the company navigates, and by which strategic decisions should be made and measured.

A good mission is therefore supported by value statements that demonstrate the philosophy of the company and how the mission is accomplished.

One of my favorite mission statements, due to its simplicity and completeness, is a short one: To solve unsolved problems innovatively.

This is from the folks that brought us White-Out and Post-It Notes; 3M's mission statement obviously drives their culture and resulting outcomes. It is short on words but long on action - they accomplish their goals "innovatively," and they measure their goals by solving "unsolved" problems. Solve a problem by innovating and you know you've met your mission.

Now I'm not saying that a snappy sentence is all you need to come up with; I am saying that a good mission starts with understanding the core of who you are and/or what you want to be. The key words that resonate with who you are and how you go about demonstrating your identity will help to craft that message.

First steps

In writing any mission statement, your first steps are to articulate your practice's "internal" and "external" goals and objectives.

Internal objectives reflect how the mission statement will be used within the practice. These could focus on team building, creating excellence in patient service, focus on safety, or any number of issues that are important to you.

External goals reflect how the mission will be used outside of the organization - in other words, the way you want patients and other entities to view you. This can be used to distill your marketing message, inform prospective patients about your culture, and generally extend the practice's personality beyond its physical walls.

Blend the two perspectives and you will have a solid idea of what you stand for and what you want to strive to achieve.

The process

Enlist the help of staff, partners, patients, family and friends - whomever you think can provide insight into, and objectivity about, your practice. Often, a mission statement ends up being a blend of what your practice is now and what you hope to evolve it into.

Once you've garnered some feedback, bring a small group together to come up with key words and concepts that describe your practice. Don't be afraid to brainstorm about ideas, notions, and aspirations that resonate with what you would like the practice to become! Every business evolves over time and improving it should be part of your mission.

Through this process, a pattern will pretty quickly emerge, highlighting the ideals that are most central to your practice's philosophy. Now is the time to begin drafting those keywords into sentences that employees, patients, and others can readily understand. The objective is to be able to accurately convey what your practice philosophy is all about.

One of my favorite mission statements comes from a client in California:

"Our mission is a simple one: by blending modern medicine with time-honored values of compassion, empathy & respect, we partner with parents to create positive change through integration of physical, emotional, and intellectual health, one child at a time."

This leaves us in no doubt about what their practice philosophy is all about and how they put it into action every day.

Acting on your mission statement

Once you have created your mission statement, put it to work! You need to actually use it in order for it to be effective and actionable. Share the mission with your employees and patients. Incorporate it into your marketing messages. And utilize it as a training tool for your staff. If you can tap an employee on the shoulder and ask "did your interaction with that patient express our mission?" then you are putting your mission into action.

Good mission statements also help you to stay on course as your business evolves. When working through a difficult decision, look to your mission. If one course of action is consistent with your mission and another is not, you'll know which one to use.

Getting clear on who you are, sharing those philosophies in a clear, concise way, and utilizing your mission statement in your everyday interactions with staff and patients will make sure that your mission stays useful and actionable.

Susanne Madden, MBA, is founder and CEO of The Verden Group, a consulting and business intelligence firm that specializes in practice management, physician education, and healthcare policy. She can be reached at madden@theverdengroup.com or by visiting www.theverdengroup.com.